The Museum Book (Review)
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Interest Level: Ages 8 - 12
Author: Jan Mark
Illustrator: Richard Holland
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2014 (first US edition)
Reading Level: Lexile NC1070L
Retail: $8.99, paperback
Summary: A large-format illustrated book for children about the history of museums. Includes a glossary of selected terms and an index.
The Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections isn't what I expected from the title. When I first opened it, I found - not a series of profiles and glossy photographs of unusual museums - but instead a book about the history of museums and the types of collections that led to the creation of today's museums.
The book is divided into numbered chapters, but there is no table of contents. Each chapter/section is short, only a few pages, and every spread contains a dense block of text decorated with images that have been pieced together using old photographs, clip art, elaborate fonts, and patterns. Some of the pages are sideways, so the reader must turn the book 90 degrees. One one page captions are aligned to page edges, running upside-down across the top. Although they are playful, the illustrations are far from babyish. They simply feel quirky and intentionally haphazard, which was probably intentional given that early museums had much the same aesthetic.
Author Jan Mark's writing is excellent. Information is given at a rapid rate (I heard the words in my head like a SciShow video), and her sometimes irreverent tone feels a bit conspiratorial. She is talking about a fairly serious topic, but isn't taking herself too seriously. Unlike many other non-fiction books for children published in recent years, this book is meant to be read cover to cover. It is not a browsing book. Each section is part of a cohesive whole, and the book is cleverly composed to circle back at the end to concepts introduced on the first few pages.
The Museum Book is only 54 pages long, but it covers a lot of territory including:
the origins of the word museum
the pre-museum practice of collecting religious relics
the pursuit of knowledge through the act of collecting
early museums intended to impress rather than to educate
how scientific classification changed how museum collections were stored and exhibited
the issues surrounding the removal of cultural property from their places of origin
the modern concept of museum and its application to words, ideas, and memories
The Museum Book probably won't appeal to a mainstream audience. The subject is a bit niche and nerdy. The vocabulary level is high, and reluctant readers may feel overwhelmed by the amount of text on each page. It is the opposite of a hi-lo book.
If you are looking for a book to appeal to an older child who is already fascinated with history and museums, this could be the right pick. The book could also be the basis of some interesting discussions about personal hobbies and collecting.