The abiding popularity of detective games such as Cluedo or murder in the dark proves that children love to be sleuths. The business of finding clues can engage their interest like nothing else. With this in mind Anna Nilsen, children's illustrator and author, has teamed up with the National Gallery to produce an irresistible whodunit approach to visual literacy.
Art Fraud Detective presents readers with the story of a theft at the town gallery in which four gangs of notorious forgers have conspired to steal 30 of the gallery's 34 pictures and replace them with fakes. Using the gallery's catalogue - which in reality contains 34 wonderful paintings from the National Gallery, such as Piero Della Francesca's "The Baptism of Christ" and Rembrandt's "Belshazzar's Feast" - readers have to make comparisons between pictures hanging in the gallery after the crime and the catalogue entry to find clues to which have been forged and by whom.
The game requires creful scrutiny of the pictures and draws readers into the detail of the painting. Children who might be simply bored or bemused if presented with a straightforward art book can enjoy the challenge of detection as an approach to the works. Nilsen also provides a succinct and readable entry to each painting and its artist in the "catalogue". Children can glean a tremendous amount of information painlessly and pleasurably from this book, which would also make a wonderful teaching aid.
Some of the same National Gallery pictures - Seurat's "Bathers at Asni res" and Gainsborough's "Mr and Mrs Andrews", for instance - also form the basis of Dogs' Night, a witty story book about art. Based on the premiss that most children are mad about pets, this book, which would probably appeal to younger primary readers, describes the mayhem caused when the dogs in the National Gallery's paintings climb out of their frames for an all-night party and then crawl back into the wrong frames.
This is an ingenious way of introducing youngsters to the nature of galleries, the paintings they house and the people who visit them.