Picture Book Perfect! : The Berkshires

Fall in the Berkshires is known as ‘leaf peeping time’, when tourists tie up local roads for miles, looking at the changing leaves. The Springfield/Berkshire region of Massachusetts, “Pioneer Valley”, is betting on families searching for “one nice green leaf” to make a trek to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The museum, in Amherst, opens November 22 with an exhibit devoted to Maurice Sendak, along with artwork by Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and countless extremely popular picture books.

After looking at the works of picture book artists, visitors of all ages are encouraged to create their own artwork, in a huge studio filled with art supplies. The museum will also host readings, performances and art classes.

In the heart of Springfield, another revered children’s author, Dr. Suess, has a new memorial. Set in the Springfield Museums at the Quadrangle, which include a science museum, an art museum and a history museum, the Dr. Suess National Memorial is an outdoor sculpture garden that invites kids to get intimate with Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, and the Lorax. When we visited the sculpture garden early one morning in July, we were the only visitors, and we obeyed the sign asking people not to climb on the statues. When we returned a few hours later, the garden was teeming with families and older fans of Dr. Suess, who grew up in Springfield, and everyone was walking and sitting on the statues. A guard told us that people couldn’t climb on top of Horton, but walking or slithering underneath was just fine. Touching is definitely encouraged.

All the museums in the Quadrangle have or had exhibits related to the Dr. Suess Memorial, which opened in June. The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum is hosting “The Suess, the Whole Suess and Nothing but the Suess” until January 5, 2003. This exhibit displays figurines, plush toys, games and other Suess memorabilia; kids may be surprised to find that marketing a popular figure started long before Anakin or the Lion King. The museum also has a playroom decorated with Suess murals, where kids can read Dr. Suess books and listen to Whos in Whoville.

The Museum of Fine Arts had an exhibit showing how the memorial was built, and a display of the casting process; the exhibit has now closed. The museum also had a room filled with Suess books and games; it, too, has closed. But kids interested in Suess can pick up a Suess scavenger hunt, which leads them through the art museum’s collection of Impressionist paintings, and into the Science Museum to count cats in African Hall and draw colored fish found in the coral reef tank.

The Springfield Science Museum won’t wow kids weaned on the Liberty Science Center, but it does have a small dinosaur exhibit with a life-size replica of a T Rex; kids can compare their hand to a dinosaur’s footprint. The museum has one of those ubiquitous spinning things that entice you to drop in coins; this is the first one I’ve seen that describes the physics behind it.

The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, which was closed all summer, is opening a Discovery Center on September 25. This discovery center serves to introduce families to the collection of Asian art in the museum, from Japanese decorative arts to Chinese jade figures and ceramics; Asian-inspired murals set the mood. Visitors can try on costumes, learn how Japanese wood block prints are made, and try origami.

The Quadrangle museums are hosting weekend family programs in the fall, with an archeological scavenger hunt October 6, a Harry Potter contest and magic show October 27, and vintage toys and Winnie the Pooh puppet show December 8.

Sports-minded families have a spanking new destination, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, opening September 28. Here, Liberty Science fans will be reminded of the sphere at that museum; the Basketball Hall of Fame is visible from the highway, I-91, that runs into Springfield, with a 93-foot-high ball made of fiberglass and filled with colored lights that turn the sphere into a huge, spinning basketball. Like the old Hall of Fame that it replaces, the new museum will be filled with memorabilia and artifacts, many with interactive stations. And while the old museum had a virtual reality basketball game and hoops of varying heights for visitors to shoot for, the new museum has more skills areas, where you can be a sportscaster, ref or coach, or take passing and dribble challenges. There are special Kid’s Courts.

The river front area around the Hall of Fame is also being spruced up, with a new hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, a Pizzeria Uno and a new bikeway and pedestrian walkway to the water. There is also a new Visitor Information Center with information on area attractions and Internet access for 25 cents a minute.

Springfield is also minutes from Six Flags, so many hotels offer special packages. The amusement park was a family-run place before being acquired, so it still has some small-town New England charm, along with new thrill rides and coasters that are a Six Flags signature. The new Batman ride is a suspended roller coaster; there is also a wooden Cyclone roller coaster, and a 1909 carousel from Coney Island. As the weather turns cooler, the extensive water park closes, but through Halloween, Six Flags is open with rides and “Frightfest” spooky decorations.

If all this isn’t enough to fill your weekend, or you like to cram in even more, plan on the “Big E” Eastern State Exposition, September 13-29 in West Springfield. This huge county fair has rides, shows, a circus, 4-H competitions and equestrian events. There are nightly parades and old-fashioned children’s games at a 19th-century New England village.




• The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 Bay Rd, Amherst, MA, will be open, starting November 22, Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm, Sunday noon-4pm. Admission is $4/adults, $2/children over age 1; $10/family. The current number, (413) 586-8934, will change; for information, go to www.picturebookart.org.


• Just down the road from the museum, Atkins Farms Country Market is a cross between a farm stand and Fairway. It has great produce, along with a bakery, cheese, sandwiches and salad bar. Route 116 and Bay Road. (413) 253-9528; www.atkinsfarms.com.


• The Eric Carle Museum has a cafe, but nearby Northampton is a great place to time a meal around; Main Street has a Moroccan cafe, a Vermont Country Deli and two restaurants that have sushi and Chinese food.


• Springfield Museums, Chestnut and State streets, are open Tuesday-Friday, noon-5pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11am-4pm. There is a single entry fee for all four museums; $6 adults, $2 ages 6-18; free under 6. (413) 263-6800; www.quadrangle.org.


• The Museum of Fine Arts has the perfect place for lunch, the Cafe on the Quadrangle, with a variety of soups, sandwiches, wraps and salads. There is even a kid’s meal.


• Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, 1000 West Columbus Ave., will be open Monday-Saturday, 9am-8pm; Sunday 9am-6pm. Admission: $15 adults, $10 ages 5-14; under 5 free. (877) 4 -HOOPLA; www.hoophall.com.


• Six Flags, 1623 Main St., Agawam, Mass. Open through November 3. Admission for adults 54" tall and over, $39.99; 37”-53", $24.99; free under 36”. (877) 4-SIXFLAGS; www.sixflags.com.


• Big E” Eastern State Exposition runs September 13-29. Order tickets at www.thebige.com or call (800) 334-2443.


Where to Stay: —Holiday Inn, 711 Dwight St., was recently renovated and has its restaurant on the 12th floor, overlooking the mountains (and the interstate). (413) 781-0900; www.holiday-inn.com/springfieldma.


—Springfield Marriott, Boland Way and Columbus, has Tower Square attached, with shopping and restaurants. (413) 781-7111; www.marriotthotels.com.