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KIDS, CUTE AND CREATIVE

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by Helen Rosengren Freedman

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If you've suspected that the illustrations in today's children's books could hold their own with any other museum-quality media, the Katonah Museum of Art proves it with their exhibition, "Children Should Be Seen: The Image of the Child in American Picture-Book Art", on view through October 21.

  To witness a young boy entering one of the galleries and excitedly exclaiming, "I know that picture!" (despite being told by his grandparents to hush, can you imagine!) would surely make any curator's hard work seem well worth the effort. Three curators are responsible for organizing this impressive show of 80-plus pieces. They've gathered images by such well-known names as Ezra Jack Keats, Chris Raschka, Mo Willems, Hudson Talbott, Chris Van Allsburg, Eric Carle and Dan Yaccarino. But even the work of more obscure artists will bring smiles of recognition and appreciation to viewers of all ages. Sums up co-curator Jane Bayard Curley: "They delight the eye and stand successfully as works of art in their own right. But beyond that, they serve as a mirror, reflecting back to us in telling ways just how our culture sees and experiences childhood."

  While children's book art has been evolving since its emergence in England during the Industrial Revolution -- to fulfill the need to provide materials to foster a love of books and learning in middle class children -- and artists like Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter, Jessie Willcox Smith, Robert McCloskey and Margaret Wise Brown pioneered the images we still treasure today, it is to Maurice Sendak who is credited with revolutionizing the way young subjects were presented to their peers, what co-curator Leonard Marcus describes as a "characteristic preference for depicting children in all their emotional heat and sticky-fingered particularity."


  That's what you'll delight in seeing in Katonah: Marjorie Priceman's bold little clown roaring back at an outraged tiger in Emeline at the Circus; dogs perched at desks among young humans in Maira Kalman's Smartypants Pete in School; a boy and a panda, both stuck up a tree in Jon J. Muth's Zen Shorts; a dinosaur hiding below the ground where a boy sits unaware on a park bench in Brian O. Selznick's The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins; the child hiding in a closet watching her parents prepare to go out for the evening and declaring, "I've run away! Do you miss me yet?" in Robie H. Harris and Harry Bliss's Don't Forget To Come Back.

   Divided into themes ("The Child at School and at Play", "The Child in the Community", "The Questioning Child" and more), the last section is titled "The New Picture Book" and includes artists who work in pop-up and computer graphics. It concludes: "Picture-book art is entering a brave new world in which the mouse -- not Mickey -- may prove mightier than the pen." Considering the talent on display in this show, we should only look forward to seeing what the masters of children's book art can do with such creative challenges.

   Children Should Be Seen is organized in collaboration with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst (currently celebrating five years), and marks the 10th anniversary of the Learning Center at the Katonah Museum. The Learning Center offers young visitors supervised arts and crafts projects on a drop-in basis. Kids can also head to the museum's Family Reading Room, where they can sink into colorful couches and browse many of the actual books with illustrations currently hanging in the exhibit.

   The Katonah Museum of Art is a family-friendly place all year round. There are frequent storytimes, meet-the-artist readings and book signings, and on Sunday, October 21, from noon-5pm, there will be "A Happy 10th Year Birthday Party" for the Learning Center. At 3:30pm, Dan Yaccarino and Rosemary Wells will do a book signing. 

   Other upcoming events include: Meet the Artist/Scott Menchin, author of Wiggle, September 23 at 10:30am; Story Time/local residents read from their favorite books, September 29, October 6 and 13 at 10:30am; Meet the Artist/Paul Zelinsky, author of Knick-Knack Paddywhack, September 30 at 10:30am; Meet the Artist/Chris Raschka, author of Yo! Yes?, October 14 at 3:30pm; a Pajama Party under a tent (bring your sleeping bag), Saturday October 20, 7:30-8:30pm. Free docent-led Family Tours are held on Sundays at 2:30pm.

Info
Where: Route 22 at Jay Street, Katonah

When: Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm; closed Mondays

How much: FREE 10am-noon; after 12pm, $5, $3 seniors and students, under 12 FREE

For more info: (914) 232-9555; www.katonahmuseum.org


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