Objects to fire the imagination

4th May 2007 at 01:00
The Museum Book. By Jan Mark. Illustrated by Richard Holland. Price Pounds 12.99. Age Seven-plus

May is Museums and Galleries Month. Katy Sullivan and Elaine Williams find literary treasures to help make the most of it

What is The Museum Book? The front cover certainly looks inviting, with warm colours, an array of images and something that sparks my curiosity.

Yet, when you turn it over to read the blurb, the image looms dark and mysterious. I am intrigued; I decide to explore further.

The illustrations are truly fabulous. A mixture of monotone buildings old and new are haphazardly placed alongside colourful collages creating a curiosity that needs to be satisfied. So I begin to read. Is it a story? I need to delve deeper.

A totem pole, a train and chairs galore are found inside an Ancient Greek temple, plus a fish in a glass case and talk of a zoo. Dinosaurs and dentists sharing space with myths, legends and the Muses. You quickly realise that this is a story - the history of museums.

I adore this book. But I am not sure if the children in my class would read it. Yes, they would definitely pick it up and look at the illustrations before probably putting it back as there is a lot of text to read. Writing, just like museums, can sometimes appear daunting and a true appreciation of them both needs to be taught.

So, teach it I will. We'll start by sharing The Museum Book. I'll read it to you because this is definitely a read-aloud book. There are lots of discussions inside it. Why are the Elgin Marbles living in the British Museum in London? Or, closer to home, what are Egyptian mummies doing residing in Manchester?

Let's talk about it, because talking is so much easier than writing. Or maybe we can collect things. What do you want to collect? Let's go out to the school field and find sticks. Look closely at them to see how they differ. Where will we keep them? Better not store them at home because your mum's still cross about how messy your collection of computer games has become. Speaking of which, let's check out museum resources on the web.

www.show.me.uk is the kids' section of the 24-hour museum and is teeming with games from galleries, archives and museums relating to their collections. Create noisy paintings at the National Gallery in London, explore Roald Dahl's writing hut in Buckinghamshire or decipher the Bayeaux Tapestry at Reading Museum - all without leaving the comfort of your classroom.

And then go and see them. Nothing beats the experience of visiting a real-life collection. Whether it is Viking longships or Roman mosaics, stuffed animals or dinosaur skeletons, exotic plants or unusual rocks, check out your local museums, archives and galleries to find out what is on offer.

Katy Sullivan is a Year 6 teacher at Holy Name Roman Catholic Primary School, Manchester Visit www.mgm.org.uk for this month's museum and gallery news and events

* Look! Seeing the Light in Art. By Gillian Wolfe. Frances Lincoln. Pounds 12.99. Seven-plus

There are many ways to look at a painting. Studying the way artists use light can tell us much about the work itself. Gillian Wolfe, who has been head of education at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, for 23 years, gives real insight into the way light has been used in 18 famous paintings.

We see how Caravaggio used light to create drama in his pictorial narratives; how Turner used it to describe the elemental forces of a storm, strapping himself to the mast of a ship in a gale for four hours for the sake of his art.

We see the dappled light of a Paris park through the eyes of Renoir; the textured, glowing light of Van Gogh.

Gillian Wolfe's explanatory text is elegant and lucid, and her suggestions for how children might try some of these devices bring art practice to life in an exciting and approachable fashion.

* What are you Looking at? By Clare Gittings. A Collins Big Cat reader. Collins Education in association with the National Portrait Gallery. pound;4.75. Seven-plus

Before mass media, portraiture was a key medium for communicating the lives of others. Yet people today feel far less confident about looking at a painting or sculpture than they do about scanning a celebrity magazine.

Portraits tell us as much about the artist who made them as they do about the sitter, and are rich in history and narrative as well as craftsmanship.

This clear and absorbing introduction looks at a number of paintings from the National Portrait Gallery collections. Clare Gittings, the NPG's education co-ordinator, gives succinct deconstructions of her selection of pictures, making them accessible and enticing. The final two pages provide teachers with topics for wider discussion, curriculum links and advice as to the clues children could include in their own portraits to make their own gallery

Elaine Williams

Collins Education is offering TES Magazine readers six copies of What are you Looking at? To enter our draw, email treats@tes.co.uk by May 10

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