Pick a Card

pick a cardA few weeks ago, I shared this fabulous hands-on education activity from Monticello. Today, I’d like to share another educational gem, this one from the Princeton University Art Museum.

Every spring, the Art Museum hosts a free Family Day for the community. It’s packed with activities, performances, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt. This year’s scavenger hunt involved one of the niftiest little card decks I’ve ever seen. The cards are the brainchild of Brice Batchelor-Hall, Manager of Student & Community Outreach.

Each card in the 30-card deck features a piece of art from the museum’s collections. During the scavenger hunt, kids used the cards to locate specific pieces of artwork in the galleries. Every time a kid correctly identified an artwork, a museum volunteer would reward him/her with a duplicate card.

matched cards

Later (and this is my favorite part), the two sets of cards could be used to play the game, Memory! But instead of matching two red apples, you’re matching two Masks of the Oculate Being. Or two slender vases with wisteria design by Gotō Seizaburō.

memory gameThe cards came in a stylish little clam shell carrying case too. Nice!


What a great way to introduce kids to art and simultaneously familiarize them with museum collections, connect them with volunteers, AND provide an opportunity for further fun at home. Not to mention the decks are super stylish (design credit goes to the talented Lehze Flax) and completely transportable. They can nestle in a purse or backpack, ready to pop out when your children need a quick diversion. But how many diversions also open the door to discussions about art, history, design, color, line, creativity, and a whole host of other concepts? Perfect. Simply perfect.

If you wanted to get literary with it, how about a deck of famous book characters? Historic writing implements? Iconic objects in your public library? Ooo! All the foreign edition covers of the first Harry Potter book!

All objects shown are from the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum. Photographs are by Bruce M. White and are ©Trustees of Princeton University. Many thanks to the University Art Museum for letting us share!

Is This An Ancient Code?

large alunnoBefore I answer this question, I must tell you that, in addition to conducting story times, author interviews, and creative literacy programming at my library, I also teach children about our rare books and special collections.

The Cotsen Children’s Library is part of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University. We have six centuries of illustrated children’s books, manuscripts, original artwork, prints, and educational toys. It’s part of my job to engage and educate young scholars with these fantastic materials.

Sometimes I select and write about collections items like the one featured in this post. Sometimes I’ll exhibit special materials at Cotsen Critix, our children’s literacy group for 9 to 12-year-olds. But our most extensive program is Cotsen in the Classroom, where I take reproductions of collections materials to K-5 classrooms. Students learn about Beatrix Potter’s nature drawings, Japanese street theater from 1930, Hans Christian Anderson’s paper cuts, school in the 1700’s, illuminated manuscripts, and 19th century geographical objects (click here to read a post about the program).

In addition to delivering these programs, I’m currently developing 6 collections-based mini-documentaries for middle school students.

minimSo…to return to the question that stated this post…is this an ancient code? Actually, they’re minims! Minims were a type of writing used in the Middle Ages when writing materials were very expensive. Letters are reduced to short vertical lines with small flourishes added at the top and bottom, which allowed scribes to write faster and use less ink.

super close up minimThe minim above, however, is quite elaborate. That’s because it was created by Venetian master scribe and artist Francesco Alunno for his calligraphic masterpiece, the Alunno Manuscript. Created between 1539 and 1550, The Alunno is considered one of the most beautiful manuscripts produced during the Renaissance. It was created at a time when the art of handwriting was disappearing. A new Renaissance invention, the printing press, would soon replace scribes and their manuscript pages forever.

Interested in learning more about the collections? Cotsen also has a curatorial blog, which you can visit by clicking here.

Rothschild Alunno Manuscript
Created in Venice, 1539-1550
Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library