Princess Arabella at the Museum is a bold and quirky ode to a selection of brilliant artists. The portrait-style cover features little Princess Arabella wearing her signature crown and a geometrical print dress that pays homage to the works of twentieth-century Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian, just like Yves Saint Laurent did in the 1960s! This delightful picture book is a treat for children ages 3-7 years old and connoisseurs alike with bright illustrations and art references galore.
In her latest adventure, Princess Arabella treats all of her royal friends to a tour of her very own, Guggenheim-inspired art museum. Princess Ling tells the group: “My dad says that it’s possible to disappear inside a painting”. They do exactly that as they roam from room to room and take in a visual feast of iconic artworks set upon the plinths and white walls of the elephant-shaped space.
This is the twelfth book in the Princess Arabella series by Mylo Freeman. The Dutch author-illustrator stays true to her mission of representing diversity by showing little readers that all children, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, can be the main characters in a story; they can be princesses and princes like Princess Arabella and her friends.
From the first stop, the friends realize how special this museum is as Princess Arabella invites them to engage their senses by touching, feeling, playing and even eating, throughout the exhibitions – something that would certainly not be allowed in most real-life museums. Princess Arabella’s quirky interpretations of all the portraits–including some of her family members–enliven her friends’ experience of the art. What is even more fantastic is how they are joined by some of the living artists like Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama’s official portraitist, in contemplating the pieces. Before Prince Mimoun declares that their museum visit has inspired him to make his own art, the friends gather on the last page to recreate one of the most famous paintings ever.
With the world currently experiencing different levels of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, we may feel nostalgic over our current inability to personally visit spaces that promote art. It is lovely to read this beautifully illustrated book as a reminder of how enjoyable it once was to get lost among sculptures and statues–big and small–bright colors, dull colors, paintings, portraits and photographs, while learning about the history, philosophy and personalities behind some of the most recognized art pieces in the world. Drawing from her own childhood experiences of visiting museums in The Hague with her mother, Mylo Freeman does an excellent job of capturing the experience through a child’s eyes as well as providing a handy reference to the artists, too.
Below is a video of Mylo Freeman in conversation about the book at the ALA Annual 2020 Virtual Booth:
Princess Arabella at the Museum was originally published in Dutch by Flemish publishing house, De Eenhoorn in March 2019.
Written by Mylo Freeman
Illustrated by Mylo Freeman
Translated from Dutch by Mylo Freeman
Cassava Republic, 2020
Page count: 32
Lebohang Masango is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology, an award-winning children’s author and poet. Her debut, Mpumi’s Magic Beads is translated in all 11 official South African languages and has been awarded a South African Literature Award, among others. Her other titles include Grow to be Great: Awesome African Achievers, co-authored with Dr Judy Dlamini, and Mpumi and Jabu’s Magical Day, co-authored with Professor Claudine Storbeck. She tweets at @lebohangwrites.