cover image The Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections

The Museum Book: A Guide to Strange and Wonderful Collections

Jan Mark, , illus. by Richard Holland. . Candlewick, $18.99 (51pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-3370-7

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.)