The life of a book is fraught with danger. Readers dribble food, bend pages, and spill beverages. Bugs nibble, sun burns, mildew blooms, and dogs gnaw. As a result, there are some pretty gross books out there. But “gross” works for kids, so I decided to combine grossness and literacy with a little investigative fun.
In 2010, I designed a “Books Done Wrong” table at the Princeton Public Library’s Children’s Book Festival. I displayed damaged books (labeled “Exhibit A, B, C” and so forth) on a table along with some large magnifying glasses. Nearby was a police lineup that matched the damage on the books to the perpetrators (I drew a police lineup backdrop and stood little cardboard versions of the perps in front of it).
Alas, these were the pre-blog days, so the above photo is the only one I have of the event table (like the fedora?). But I did ask our student artist, Aliisa Lee, to create a line up of repeat offenders. Meet Pen Marks, Sunshine, Water Damage, Silverfish, Food Spills, Mildew, and Chomping Dog.
At the event, kids examined the books and guessed who damaged what book. If they identified the perpetrators correctly, they were awarded a small plastic magnifying glass. I bought mine from Educational Innovations. Cheaper (but lower quality) magnifying glasses can be found at Oriental Trading Company.
So that was my little event table.
Leave it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take it to the next level.
For starters, did you know The Met has multiple libraries? One of them, the Nolen Library in the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education is open to museum visitors and researchers of Art History. Even better, the Nolen Library has a children’s section, complete with storytimes!
Courtesy of the Nolen Library. Photograph by Filip Wolak.
Even the littlest museum patrons can browse relevant picture books and computer programs. And just look at these amazingly stylish computer stools!
Last year, when The Met launched MetKids (their digital feature for tweens), the Nolen Library and book conservation staff from the Thomas J. Watson Library put together a beautiful demonstration of the intersection between books, science, art, and conservation. Here’s the team (from left to right): Yukari Hayashida, Leah High, Jenny Davis, Dana Hart, Naomi Niles, and Chelsea DeGlopper.
The exhibit was spread over two large tables. At the first table you could find things like damaged books, sample of paper, and posters of pests.
Here’s my personal favorite – a microscope that shows a buggy book muncher up close.
Here’s a book catalog the conservators water-damaged on purpose for the event. So if you’re thinking of doing a similar table, and can’t find damaged books in your personal collection, feel free to customize one that would otherwise end up in the recycle bin!
At the second exhibit table, there was information on how to fix books, including the various materials conservators use.
I really loved this – a laptop showing before and after shots of fixed books:
During the event, conservators gave a presentation, encouraged kids to touch and explore, and fielded all sorts of questions.
The library also hosted a bookplate-making activity in a side room. On display were some of their fascinating historic bookplates (the real ones – not reproductions!).
Nearby were plenty of art materials to make your own bookplate. Fantastic!
If you haven’t been to The Met, by all means go. After my family and I left the MetKids event, we explored the rest of the museum. We were not prepared for how astounding, amazing, gigantic, and beautiful it was. I always wondered why Claudia wanted to run away to The Met and how the siblings managed to stay hidden (I speak, of course, of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). But now I understand. I understand!
Many thanks to Leah High at the Nolen Library, and the conservators from the Thomas J. Watson Library, for letting me come and photograph their fantastic, and incredibly educational, event table. Thank you!
Children’s Book Festival photograph courtesy of the Princeton Public Library.