Travel Published: Jun 21, 2019 - 5:59:03 AM

Our weekly field trip: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

By Naiden Stoyanov, Canaiden Media

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This is the first installment of our “Wednesday Field Trip” summer break column. We urge you to take at least one, if not more, Wednesdays, or any other weekday, off this summer and take your kids on a field trip. That's what we will be doing and we will share our finds and insights with you so that hopefully you get inspired and take some time to reconnect. Some of our trips will be in town, others outside of city limits, but all will be within a reasonable driving distance and should provide you with ideas to take your family on an unforgettable excursion that they, and you, will talk about for days and remember forever. Enjoy!

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Trivia: Eric Carle turns 90 this summer.
The trip: About two hours of driving up I-95 and I-91
Admission: $9 for adults and $6 for kids
Why would you go: Kids will learn about the book-making process, get inspired, have a chance for hands-on arts activities and have a lot of fun.
Lunch: Atkins Farms Country Market is just around the corner (note: we didn't have a chance to check it out but it was recommended to us by the museum and online reviews seem overwhelmingly positive)

Contributed image
It's a very hungry caterpillar. And this year it turns 50. But that's nothing compared to its creator who in a few days will count 90 candles on his birthday cake.

Eric Carle is a legend in the picture book category. And if for some reason you don't know his name you almost certainly are well acquainted with his most famous creation – The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It's a book that every kid under, say 50 or so, would recognize it in a heartbeat.

A fairly new creation in the Carle world, though, only 16 years young, is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art – a must-visit for everyone, especially if hailing from our neck of the woods, which happens to be a very sensible, even for toddlers, about two-hours or less by car.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (photography: Canaiden)
Situated in a quiet corner of Amherst, MA, the museum is the creation of Eric Carle's vision of embracing and celebrating picture book art and inspiring kids' imagination in the process. Founded by Eric and the now late Barbara Carle in 2002, the museum features not only the works of Eric Carle himself, including original drawings, book mockups and other artifacts from Carle's portfolio, but also displays exhibitions of works by other big names in the picture book genre. The museum boasts 11,000 objects, including 7,300 permanent collection illustration from artists from the likes of Ashley Bryan, Leo Lionni, William Steig and Mo Willems.

And while all this is certainly impressive and by itself a reason to trek up to Amherst, it is the atmosphere and creative resources that make the museum a destination for a family field trip.

The main lobby of Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (photography: Canaiden)
The building is a modern one-story spacious edifice with clean lines and wide-open space inside. The very spacious main lobby is the connection between the galleries, the auditorium, the library and the art studio, where your kids can spend hours creating amazing paper sculptures and other visual masterpieces. The library is a quiet corner with a selection of picture books and other children's classics, to the count of 5,000 or so volumes. The gallery space is split in three rooms, one of which is dedicated to Eric Carle and the other two showcase select picture book artists on scheduled basis. On the other end, the art studio always has staff available to tend to the young creators and help when necessary.

The book creation station inside the West Gallery (photography: Canaiden)
This summer, the West Gallery's space, dedicated to Eric Carle's art features the exhibition The Art of Making A Book, which explores the stories that have inspired Carle and the process of making and publishing them. You will see how Carle's 10 Little Rubber Ducks were developed from sketches to the final product and will explore other items from the creative and printing process. Also on view are some never-before-seen works of Carle. There is also a book-making space for the kids where they can dabble in the art of creating a picture book themselves. This exhibition will be available until August 25. Then, from September 7, 2019 until March 1, 2020 it will be replaced by a new exhibit called Under the Sea with Eric Carle which will explore the under water creatures from Carle's books.

50 Years of Silvester and the Magic Pebble is featured this summer in the intimate setting of the Central Gallery and offers kids a chance to play with a life-size version of the rock from William Steig's famous picture book. This exhibition will be on view until December 1.

In the East Gallery, kids and adults alike can travel on the remarkable journey offered by the meticulously detailed drawings of Peter Sis, on view until October 27.

Regularly scheduled programs during the day include story times at the library, movies and other educational exercises. Special events are also held frequently.

The art room at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (photography: Canaiden)
A major entertainment, designed to make you and your kids move about the entire space, while having fun and noticing things you otherwise probably wouldn't, are the two scavenger hunts available at the museum. One of them is confined to the West Gallery where Eric Carle's exhibition resides and will make your kids carefully examine all the works around the room. Did you know about the ants that carry leaves? And the other one will make you comb through the entire museum looking for the rubber duckies plastered on the wall in the different rooms. I challenge you to fund the ducky in the library in 1 minute or less.

The self-serve cafeteria space offers free coffee and a vending machine with snacks, but you can bring your own lunch and either sit inside or enjoy a great day on the outdoor patio.

You might also want to try the lush meadow for a quiet picnic enhanced by the number of available objects designed to inspire and entertain your kids. Bobbie's Meadow, named after Eric Carle's late wife who passed away in 2015, was opened last year and features a tranquil space with musical instruments, blocks and The Very Little Library complete with a number of picture books. During the summer the museum offers outdoor storytimes, creative movement and art-making.

The museum's media kit explains the science that goes behind their exhibitions, flow and events, including the Visual Thinking Strategies and the Reggio Emilia approach to early education - “approaches designed to foster critical and creative thinking and personal connection with the world of art and expressive languages.” But for most of us only one thing would matter. And, at least my kids, unbeknownst to them playing the role of museum critics, had a great time and love it.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is open daily Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Saturday – 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. And Sunday – 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday. Admission is $9 for adults and $6 for kids. It is located at 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA. For more information you can call them at (413) 559-6300 or go to

Happy Birthday Eric Carle!

Bonus stop: For added excitement, if your kids haven't fallen asleep after hours of fun at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a few miles down the road, as you head back home, you might want to stop by the Skinner Museum (33 Woodbridge St, South Hadley, MA), which features about 5,000 objects of any kind – from pebbles to medieval knight armor, a real size single log-carved canoe and everything in between. Don't miss the large collection of eggs of all sizes and the fossils that all kids seem to love. And don't go without asking for details on the large Japanese temple replica, made by the Quakers after they tore down the real deal in Japan. Every object has a story, only there are so many objects there that some stories are lost forever. Yet, if you are into history and folklore you will find this place a lot of fun. You will feel like you are in an episode of History Channel's American Pickers, only nothing is for sale. Which is probably a good thing.

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