Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – An Art Museum For Book Lovers by Jennie Fitzkee

Today Jennie Fitzkee shares a visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art… a treasure trove of images from some of the classic children’s books of the last fifty years.

An Art Museum For Book Lovers by Jennie Fitzkee

People think of an art museum as… art, single standing pieces on their own right. Imagine masterful, award winning art combined with the best literature, in one museum. Exciting? You bet! A hidden gem in Amherst, Massachusetts.


What is your favorite childhood book? Madeline? Perhaps it is Make Way For Ducklings. There are so many. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is dedicated to the art of children’s book illustrators. I thought this was interesting, then I visited the museum. Oh, my!

The exhibit way back then featured Ezra Jack Keats, author of The Snowy Day. I am a preschool teacher and have read this wonderful book to my class hundreds of times. Yet, I never expected to come face-to-face with his art. I did. To my great surprise it was made from cut-out linoleum. I couldn’t walk away or let that go. I was witnessing the real art of his award winning book.

Much like seeing the ocean for the first time, I was stunned.

I love and appreciate art, and I’m passionate about reading children’s books. There I was, staring at both. Every visit to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has been equally powerful. Yesterday was no exception. But first, let me back up and tell you about Eric Carle.

One of the staples in children’s books is Brown Bear, Brown Bear. No, Eric Carle did not write this book; it was the first book he illustrated, his big break into the world of children’s book illustration. At the time Eric Carle was the art director for an advertising agency in New York. His life, before then, is the most powerful story of an artist. Ever!

He was born in New York in 1929 and moved with his family to Stuttgart, Germany in 1936 to be with relatives. 1936 in Germany? Not good. His father was drafted into the German army, and Eric and his family fled to Stollen in the Black Forest.

His schooling is fragmented, but he continues to draw and paint and looks forward to an occasional class with his high school art teacher Fridolin Krauss.

Aware of Carle’s promise as a young artist, Herr Krauss invites him to his home one day. He shows Carle a box of “forbidden art” by so-called degenerate artists like Picasso, Klee, Matisse, and Kandinsky. “Their strange beauty almost blinded me,” recalls Carle. His teacher warns him not to tell anyone what he has seen. “But, for his act of defiance,” says Carle, “Herr Krauss…opened my eyes to the beauty of German Expressionism and abstract art.”

Eric Carle saw modern art, “forbidden art” of the great masters, for the first time in his life. His teacher risked his own life to show Carle the art. The seed was planted. Every time I look at a Kandinsky or a Picasso, I think of that moment. Art can change the world. It did for Eric Carle.

That first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, is fifty years old. It is a beloved classic throughout the world, having been translated into 31 different languages with 16 million copies sold. Happy anniversary! Here are world-wide covers of the book:


My preschoolers made a Brown Bear that we gave to the museum (which they displayed).


Fast forward to the museum. They have displayed the original art of Robert McCloskey and Make Way For Ducklings, and the original art of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline. Up close, very close. Every pencil line and brush stroke were visible. I was inches away from the pictures I had only seen in picture books. For a book lover, this is as good as it gets.


I recently saw the art of Hilary Knight’s Eloise, a beloved book from my childhood written by Kay Thompson. As a child, every Sunday afternoon I would act out Eloise. She was my first introduction to New York, and to bravery. Eloise was brave. She was a bit of a hero.


When real, award winning art is combined with the best literature, it is win-win, a grand slam. Reading the picture books, time and time again, and seeing the pictures ‘live’ is grand, indeed.

There is more! The best bookstore by far (coming from me- someone who knows good children’s literature) is right there in the museum. A piece of heaven.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts is a treasure.


©Jennie Fitzkee 2017

About Jennie Fitzkee

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It’s the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That’s what I write about.

I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease’s bestselling book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook” because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.

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45 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – An Art Museum For Book Lovers by Jennie Fitzkee

  1. Thanks, if I ever get to the USA I want to head to that museum, not Disneyland! I knew nothng about Eric Carle the person, or the museum, I love the idea od the art teacher sharing. I wonder how many millions of children and adults have enjoyed sharing the hungry caterpillar?

    Liked by 2 people

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  4. Sally, thank you so much for sharing this post! Jennie, this is a fabulous post and your joy and admiration of it would match mine if I ever saw it for real. Thank you so much for sharing not only about the museum and some of its art but also about Carle’s introduction to art. Finally, I love the brown bear made by your class, it’s wonderful and how fantastic that the museum put it on display. This has been a real treat to read this very grey and rainy afternoon – my heart and mind are well-lit with creative spirit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Annika. Like you, I was struck learning about Carle’s introduction to art. I was fortunate to hear him speak last fall. He told many stories of those early years. It is a wonderful museum! And it was thrilling to have them display our Brown Bear.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful place, wonderful art. I don’t exactly know why, but as a child I was not exposed to quality picture books. I was blessed with some Little Golden Books and a couple of off-brand similar types (and I know a few of the LGBs had good illustrators for the time, mainly 1940s). But although there were quality picture books available by then (I was born in 1955), I never saw them. One reason was the cost, no doubt, maybe even for the library. A larger part of the reason must have been that I went right into chapter books in kindergarten–was definitely reading the Bobbsey Twins that year. When I started to teach children’s lit I was overwhelmed by all I had missed. P.S. In first grade, our reading books were Dick and Jane, but the first grade next door was a trial balloon of Dr. Seuss books. What a different “upbringing” those two classes had!

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  7. Thank you for sharing about the Eric Carle Museum. I am so excited to hear about it and putting it on my list of essential places to visit. I am a retired preschool teacher. My favorite part of teaching was introducing the children to all the wonderful picture books. After reading hundreds of them over the years I decided it was time to write and illustrate one of my own! It is called, Shake, Waggle, and ROLL! After two years of writing and illustrating it was finally published in November and is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and WestBow Press. The story is in simple rhyme, with picture cues so the children can easily learn to read along and fill in the action words. It is about the beloved family dog Russ T. Pup and how he spends his day. Have you thought about writing a children’s book? My favorite one as a kid was SNOW, by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman. One of my favorites in the classroom was Thunder Cake by Patricia Pollaco.
    Love your blog!! Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

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