I love being able to talk to my daughters about art and share a love of viewing art. We don’t have a lot of access to museums where we live, so I have to supplement with books and through their amazing art program at school. To engage kids in art, you have to make it come alive. That is exactly what Carolyn Bracken managed to do in her upcoming book, Mr. Owliver’s Magic at the Museum.
In this fabulous book, Mr. Owliver is a night watchman at the Animaltown Art Museum. He loves his job and is perfectly happy to have the night shift, considering he is an owl. His job starts when everyone is leaving the museum at the end of the day, so he spends his night being able to see famous paintings without any crowds and at whatever pace he wants. Over the years, he has come to see the characters in these paintings as his friends.
On the evening of his birthday, he walks the halls of the museum and something doesn’t feel quite right. The readers already can tell that all of the subjects are missing from their paintings! When Mr. Owliver realizes that everyone is gone he is mortified. Suddenly he hears faint music coming from the last gallery, opens the doors and, SURPRISE! – all of his “friends” are there waiting to celebrate his birthday.
The story itself is somewhat predictable, but what sets this book apart is the art and the wordplay. Young readers get to see Mr. Owliver walk around the museum taking in famous works of art, slightly altered. For example, the Mona Lisa becomes the “Mona Lizard.” The text mentions the long lines that people stand in to see paintings like the Mona Lisa (although this would have even more power if the painting was a small as the Mona Lisa really is). With each painting, either the works itself or the name of the artist was altered in a tongue in cheek way to make it have to do with animals. So “The Loge” by Auguste Renoir becomes painted by Auguste Wrenoir and “Dr. Gachet” by Van Gogh is “Dr. Goatchet” by Vincent Van Goat.
In addition, the back of the book has information on all of the paintings with little details about what makes them special. Children can learn that it took Seurat “two whole years” to paint “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” or the fact that the paintings Pinkie and Blue Boy truly hang on opposite walls from each other in their permanent home at The Huntington in Los Angeles. There is also an Art History Timeline showing when these paintings were originally done so children can see how art changed over the years.
I had such a fun time reading this book with my daughter. Mr. Owliver shows us that we can have special relationships with art. Whether you get lost in a landscape or are whisked away by the dancers in a Degas, there is something for everyone. We routinely talk about how art is in the eye of the beholder, that different paintings will move us in different ways. This fun book is a great way to start that conversation and make learning about famous works of art much more fun.
*** I would like to thank the publisher and netgalley.com for allowing me to read the ARC of this book in advance of publication in exchange for an honest review.