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Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections

Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections

by Jan Mark, Richard Holland (Illustrator)

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Why do people collect things? This ode to museums mighty and minuscule will draw curious viewers of all ages — and is worthy of collection itself.

What is a museum? Why would anyone amass shells, words, clocks, teeth, trains, dinosaurs, mummies . . . or two-headed sheep? Find out where the word "museum" comes from and what unusual items


Why do people collect things? This ode to museums mighty and minuscule will draw curious viewers of all ages — and is worthy of collection itself.

What is a museum? Why would anyone amass shells, words, clocks, teeth, trains, dinosaurs, mummies . . . or two-headed sheep? Find out where the word "museum" comes from and what unusual items (unicorn horns? mermaids?) some early museums placed on view. Jan Mark’s humorous and conversational insights take readers through museums’ multifaceted history, while Richard Holland’s eye-catching mixed-media illustrations lend their own quirky flair. With vivid examples from all around the world, this wonderful book puts museums — and the many artifacts lovingly stored there — on display in a whole new light.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The act of opening this eclectic, tall-format tome will launch readers on a leisurely and edifying journey of discovery. "Suppose you went into a museum and you didn't know what it was," the late, distinguished British author asks at the outset, then demonstrates the fundamentally eccentric nature of institutions more commonly viewed as sober and staid. Holland, also British, jolts readers still further with his mixed-media collages, which sparingly employ color and liberally combine what look like Victorian engravings, pencil sketches, Gorey-like figures, and photos of various locales. His stylish compositions play with perspective, type and design, making excellent use of the vertically oriented pages as the text pieces together an overview of museum evolution. The circuitous gambol includes the ancient muses (at the root of "museum"); Alexandria, Egypt; the Middle Ages; and such famous collectors and collections as Peter the Great and Oxford University's Ashmolean. Mark doesn't dwell long on any one era or topic, and her style is often both conversational and witty. Although the discussion is far-ranging (encompassing two-headed sheep and holy relics as well as the definition of a synoptic gallery), the inclusion of disparate items puts the concept of a museum into meaningful context by the conclusion. Also proffered are inventive examples of the word (the brain as a museum for thoughts). Throughout, the intricate details of the energetic compositions invite close perusal, prompting an analogy between this book and the exhibits it celebrates. Ages 8-up. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Mark takes a historical approach here, beginning with a list of items one might find in a museum before proceeding to an explanation of the history of museums, dating the first museum to 550 BCE in Ancient Greece named after the Muses that inspired the arts. The book further explains the founding of museums in the modern world. Mark takes an unusual subject and creates a detailed description of the evolution of museums. This short, oversized book contains a wealth of historical information, including the name of the oldest existing museum in the world as well as the different types of museums, which might surprise readers. The pictures artistically draw readers into the text to examine the book as one might scrutinize an exhibit. Holland uses mixed media of collage and printing to create art with bright objects scattered against a soft background, allowing the images to pull in and stimulate the reader both intellectually and aesthetically. Although the narrow topic might confine readers, those who pick up the book will enjoy it. Reviewer: Jennifer Rummel
Children's Literature
What is a museum? Most readers will have been to at least one, but may never have thought about how museums got started or what they really are. Carnegie Medal--winner Mark explores their origin as a home for the Muses, through medieval churches as museums of holy relics, to seventeenth-century Wunderkammern and private collections that eventually ended up in buildings we call museums. Mark points out the unusual, such as entire cities that are museums (Venice), reconstructed museum-cities like Williamsburg, and even buildings (the Chrysler Building or the Topkapi Sarayi) that are museums in themselves. She also discusses museum problems: large collections that get too big for available space, objects that have been removed from countries now demanding them back (the Elgin Marbles), and fakes like the Piltdown Man or mermaids constructed from monkey torsos and fish tails. The author suggests it’s a good idea to keep out-of-date artifacts and specimens since we are always learning more--some bits of dodo were rescued from a bonfire just as dodoes became extinct--and offers the novel idea that memories (from Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses) are museums of our own experiences. One mistake: Catherine the Great, though a great collector, was not Peter the Great’s granddaughter. Mark’s erudite, wittily conversational prose is matched by the elegance of Holland’s illustrations--collages of print, drawings, and photographs, each page is a wonder of color and design, intriguing people and objects, and can be viewed horizontally or vertically. You might say this fascinating book is, itself, truly a Wunderkammer. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6
This slim, information-packed chronological history of museums includes such terms as "panopticon," "tumulus," and "elf bolts" and highlights the need to investigate, collect, and respect history through scientific study. Beginning with the first building to house "old and interesting things" in Ur in 550 BCE, Mark describes The Museum of Alexandria, explaining the etymology of the term by introducing the mythological Muses. A chapter on the Middle Ages mentions accumulations of holy relics, the search for rare and powerful objects by alchemists and apothecaries, and the Wunderkammer (chamber of wonders) of private collectors. The book covers noted collectors throughout history and also traces the development of modern museums. Readers learn that these institutions are not limited in size or content; the word may refer to an art gallery, a synoptic museum in which all objects share the same classification, or even a whole city. Even the mind is presented as a museum of ideas and a dictionary as a museum of words. Mixed-media illustrations present a collage of photographic and print images, incorporating varying fonts and surprising bursts of color amid the images. Above all, the author stresses the connection between the past and future. A thoughtful book for those who see collecting as joy or science.
—Mary ElamCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.62(w) x 12.10(h) x 0.42(d)
NC1070L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Jan Mark, one of Britain’s most distinguished authors of books for young people, was twice awarded the Carnegie Medal and also received many other awards. She passed away in January 2006.

Richard Holland says that THE MUSEUM BOOK inspired him to try a new mixed-media collage style and "was an illustrator’s dream." He lives in Essex, England.

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