The Eric Carle Museum is the only one of its kind to solely dedicate attention to children’s picture book art. This is a place that praises the illustrator and her work. Located in Amherst Massachusetts, the Carle aims to collect, preserve, present and commemorate picture books for children. Eric and Barbara Carle founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle is a renowned author, artist/illustrator in the world of children’s literature. He is famously known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Grouchy Ladybug, and illustrator of Bill Martin’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Carle has a distinct and recognizable style; he uses tissue paper collage, which is often combined with acrylic paint, pencil, and crayons. His artistic intention is it to bridge the gap between learning and merriment. He uses his love for nature and vibrant images to capture the reader’s interest and attention. His Museum, commonly known as The Carle, embodies the same intention, to provide a space in which children and adults can enjoy art, literature, and education without the restrictions and ambience of a traditional museum.
I had the opportunity visit the Carle and speak with the Director of Education Courtney Waring, and Museum Educator Emily Prahbaker. Visiting The Carle allowed me to venture away from a library setting, but experience and environment that caters to a young audience. I meet with the two professionals to inquire about their interest in the field, and how they achieved their professional positions.
The Carle is rather small building but voluminous within. The museum contains two galleries, library, café/resting area, gift shop, and theatre. I knew I was in the children orientated environment, when one of the stalls in the rest room had funky shaped toilet set, along with Eric Carle animals formatted into bathroom tiles. My tour was lead by the Director of Education, Courtney Waring. Courtney gave me a tour to the show room that was dedicated to the life and work of Eric Carle. The works shown were Carle’s original works aligned with his revision. Whenever Carle’s books are to be republished he recreate his work to make sure the work is more colorful and vibrant compared the original. In addition, there is also artwork from his early career in illustration and advertisement. In the middle of the showroom was a desk that displayed all of the materials he uses for his illustrations. Courtney mentioned that Carle wanted to display his material to show children that the work he produced could be mimicked by anyone. These materials are accessible to anyone and install the idea that you do not need expensive material to make quality art. After, I saw their current exhibit of the illustrations from Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. The Carle has another gallery but it was under construction to feature the work of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline.
Afterwards, I saw the museum’s library. It was small but contained enough content for it’s audience. Its collection was primarily children picture books, with few chapter books on display. Furthermore they dedicated a shelf to Caldecott awarded books. What I thought was interesting and radical about their library was that it was arranged by illustrators last name, and then title of the book. The library the Carle also holds story time, which is often conducted in the galleries. Later, Courtney provided me more insight about the services the Carle offers to their community. I was later provided insight on how Courtney came to the Carle, along with the approaches and methods that are used in the museum to promote literacy and engagement.
The Eric Carle Museum uses several approaches to promote literacy, arts and engagement. The Visual Thinking Stategies, the Whole Book Approach, and inspiration from the Reggio Emilia educational learning project. The Visual Think Strategies is a learner-centered method to examine and find meaning in visual art through a sequence of carefully selected fine art images…Students look carefully, develop opinions, express themselves, consider multiple viewpoints, speculate together, argue, debate, and build on each other’s ideas, and sometimes revise their conclusions[i]. Furthermore, this strategy uses art to help children practice respectful, democratic, collaborative problem solving. The Carle uses VTS open-ended question to engage the children in discussions about the illustrations in a book. However, the Whole Book Approach further emphasizes this dialogue by allowing children to explore all parts of the book, cover to cover, page to page. Lastly, the Carle embodies the ideas of Reggio Emilia educational learning methods. The Reggio believe that children have the right and the ability to express their thinking, theories, ideas, learning and emotions in many ways. Therefore, Reggio educators provide children with a wide range of materials and media, and welcome a diversity of experiences, so that children encounter many avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings[ii]. Emily Prahbakers, who is the Museum Educator, further explained these methods. With her masters from Simmons in Children’s Literature and Library Science, Emily conducts literacy and art programs within the museum and in the community. Emily uses and is a firm believer in encouraging children to have a dialogue about art and literature. Promoting the use of dialogue with children allows for them to make personal and worldly connections with the theme, and message of the book. She believes that a group interaction can empower, and permit children to explore the world around them. This approach leads children to engage in open-thinking. I share the same belief and practice similar methods with the work I do at my library. After witnessing the bizarre feeling of having children stare out of boredom, I have encouraged and ignited dialogue during story time so that they can be an active part of the reading experience.
Speaking to the Director of Education and the Museum Educator allowed me the share interest in children’s literature, plus promoting and advocating for dialogue in literacy for young children. The Carle is a unique facility to praise children picture book illustrations. Museums and libraries have the power to provide alternate educational methods to encourage children to have fun while learning. The service that is available at the Eric Carle Museum is probably the most organic educational interaction a child can experience today.
[i] Eric Carle Museum
[ii] The North American Reggio Emilia Alliance