Kids' Books about NYC Museums: Get the Family Psyched to Visit the Metropolitan, MoMA and More

5/27/13 - By Raven Snook

While there are lots of wonderful children's books about New York City, our kids are lucky enough to live here. They don't need to read a book to find out what it's like to play in the street on a snowy day or run amok at the Plaza or visit the Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge.

Yet there are times when flipping through a book about an iconic NYC experience can actually get local children excited for the real thing, like going to an art museum. Recently, Mommy Poppins founder Anna got her nine-year-old psyched for the Gutai exhibit at the Guggenheim by giving him Speeding Down the Spiral: An Artful Adventure, a picture book about visiting the museum that contained a catalog of its permanent collection. He pored over the images and couldn't wait to see the works of art in person.

There are other inspiring kids' books out there about exploring NYC's great art institutions. We're not talking about those general enjoy-the-museum stories that take place at fictitious culture spots. These 10 titles work as primers so your kids will be excited to spend a day at the museum, be it the Met, the Guggenheim or MoMA.


Guggenheim Museum of Art
Even though Speeding Down the Spiral is a picture book with a simple plot about a family chasing their out-of-control stroller through the museum, it's not just for little kids. Sophy Naess' illustrations capture Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing architecture and give readers of all ages a peek at famous works by Cézanne, Chagall, Lichtenstein, Miró, Picasso and Warhol. Though out of print for many years, A. C. Hollingsworth's 1970 picture book I’d Like the Goo-Gen-Heim was recently reissued and is the perfect introduction to the museum for young children. When a little boy's father falls asleep in Central Park, he wanders away and is immediately intrigued by the Guggenheim's unique construction. Inside, he's even more enthralled by the art of Kandinsky, Léger and Rouault. I read the charming book to my daughter before our first visit there and it really enhanced our experience.

Museum of Modern Art
I'm a huge fan of the books by the hilarious author-illustrator team of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. The duo specializes in skewed takes on old classics like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. They give modern art the same treatment in Seen Art?, a picture book about a boy searching for his friend Art, who ends up in the Museum of Modern Art. There, enthusiastic art lovers introduce him to celebrated works by Van Gogh, Matisse, Klee and others. It's repetitive to be sure but gets readers young and old pumped for a day at MoMA and also sparks interesting "What is art?" conversations. Another option is to turn your visit into a fun scavenger hunt with ABC: The Museum of Modern Art New York, which illustrates the alphabet with pieces from MoMA's collections, D is for Matisse's Dance, etc.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met has inspired more children's books than any other NYC museum. In fact, E.L. Konigsburg's 1968 Newbery Medal-winning novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler may be the most famous kids' book about a museum, ever. Two precocious tweens camp out in the Met for a week and end up solving an art mystery. The tome is so popular, the Met even has a family guide you can download that touches on works referenced in the book. And in case your kids are wondering, unlike a lot of other New York City museums, the Met does not allow kids to sleepover for a night, let alone a week!

For younger children, try You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, which is illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, the artist behind the Fancy Nancy books. It's about a little girl who abandons her balloon outside the Met, and their separate but related adventures. The art she sees mirrors the balloon's journey. It's a playful introduction to the Met's collections.

Inside the Museum: A Children's Guide to the MMA offers a more straightforward look at the Met and its treasures. This resource is filled with info about the works, art preservation and restoration, and what it takes to keep the museum running smoothly. Meanwhile, kids obsessed with the Met's Egyptian Art wing will appreciate Jessie Hartland's How the Sphinx Got to the Museum, which chronicles the creation and history of the sphinx of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut and how it came to reside at the museum.

American Museum of Natural History
Granted, you probably don't need to read a book to get the kids psyched about a trip to the Natural History Museum, but Milan Trenc's A Night at the Museum is a cute read. Significantly different than the movie, the original picture book features just the dinosaurs coming to life, and the nightwatchman who keeps them under control, none of the other convoluted stuff. ABC Dinosaurs also focuses on the prehistoric creatures and is aimed at preschool paleontologists. The first in a series, the second book, ABC Animals featuring natural wonders from the Mammal Halls, comes out in the fall.

And an honorable mention goes to Brian Selznick's stunning graphic novel Wonderstruck about the journeys of two deaf children a half century apart. It features pivotal scenes in the American Museum of Natural History and the Queens Museum, specifically at the latter's famous Panorama of NYC. More illustrations than text, the book is breathtaking.

Find out about other great children's books or read about NYC's best kid-friendly museums.

Photos courtesy of the publishers