Today’s post is a virtual field trip to the Children’s Book Museum in The Hague, just a short bicycle ride from my house. This is my second trip to the museum to research #DutchKidLit for this month of posts, with the goal of learning more about the connections between early childhood Dutch books and the happiest children in the world. The shouts of delight and engaged play I saw this sunny Sunday afternoon certainly suggests that early literacy and museum culture for kids is a real priority for favorite grown-ups and other caregivers in the city.
I entered the museum through the gift shop, and now that COVID measures have been relaxed further, I was able to walk in without an appointment. I just presented my Netherlands Museum Pass for my free entrance bracelet, and went upstairs to the current exhibits for ages 2 – 6.
There are two exhibits that connect to each other currently running at the museum. The “I Am Frog” exhibit is based on the beloved Frog and friends books by award-winning Dutch author-illustrator Max Velthuijs:
The “ABC with the Animals and Me” is a multi-room, multi-character experience for children where they can “clamber and play while getting to meet the creatures from their favourite children’s books.”
The pantheon of #DutchKidLit authors, illustrators, and characters represented in this exhibit is both impressive and accessible. It includes illustrator Fiep Westendorp’s Pim and Pom cat characters, Jet Boeke’s Dikkie Dik the orange cat, Dick Bruna’s famous Miffy, Hans de Beer’s Lars from The Little Polar Bear series (which was very popular when I lived here in 2010 or so), and Sylvia Vanden Heede and Thé Tjong-Khing’s Fox and Hare series characters. International authors are also represented with Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar which has its own area, as does David McKee’s Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.
I began my visit at the entrance to the “I am Frog” exhibit, but got sidetracked by the Pim and Pom room off to the right, part of the “ABC with the Animals and Me” exhibit:
The murals and activites in this room are based on the animated film and accompanying picture book Pim and Pom: Het Grote Avontuur (Pim and Pom’s Big Adventure). It reminds me of Disney’s The Aristocats, where domestic cats get kidnapped and then a gang of street cats with hearts of gold help rescue them from unscrupulous humans and save the day. And then they all get new homes and have a party!
Children in this room can create their own stories with magnetic characters and scenes from the film, set in a very Dutch cityscape of charming canal houses, cobblestone streets peppered with bicycles, bridges, and fall leaves, and the walls are simply bursting with gorgeous gabled murals based on illustrator Fiep Westendorp’s signature style.
I moved down the hallway from Pim and Pom to the “I am Frog” exhibit, an homage to the wonderful books by Max Velthuijs who won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2004. The Andersen Jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) said this about Velthuijs’ work:
The exhibit’s book characters were surrounded by young children and their parents and there was fun being had throughout the room, little ones playing and pretending to skate, boat, dig, and explore with Frog and his friends, all in multi-media enhanced settings. There are scenes where children can “dig treasure with Bear and Frog, saw and paint with Rat and bake a delicious cake with Pig.” There was also a cosy reading room with a shelf full of Frog and Friends books:
Max Velthuijs’ Frog and Friends books have remained popular and relevant through their strong social emotional themes, and the exhibit highlights those lessons, “Like the books, the exhibition teaches children about emotions such as love, fear and happiness.” My colleague Helle Kirstein shared Frog and the Stranger with me and told me how she used this simple story to talk about prejudice and the fears of outsiders that can cause harm to communities during human migration units in primary school classes:
The book’s characters and stories were featured in Episode 3 on the Frog and Friends animated series:
I reluctantly left the “I am Frog” spaces, took off my protective shoe slippers and put them back in the basket at the front of the exhibit (which I think I should have kept on, note for next time!), and moved back into the “ABC with the Animals and Me”, heading towards the large butterfly on the wall ahead of me. A, B, C, D, E…”‘E’ for ‘Eating like the Very Hungry Caterpillar’”, and there was a large space full of tunnels with numbers for a physically active experience, a great way to start the exhibit getting bodies and minds engaged.
The next highlighted letter is G for “Gold, Blue or Red: Drawing with Nijntje (Miffy)”, a fun space where children have two different drawing activities to try.
The bright, simple palette of colors is traditionally Miffy and the simplified design paints an exciting contrast to the exuberant collage work and use of color in Eric Carle’s work just outside. Author-illustrator Dick Bruna used a “limited range of colours in his books. The colours he used were not quite primary colours. There was a touch of black in his red, yellow and blue, making the colours slightly warmer. Similarly, his green, brown and grey are quite warm, rather than cold. On rare occasions, he’d use other colours, such as orange for carrots.”
Directly across from Miffy’s drawing table is the entrance to the Little Polar Bear’s room next door.
The Little Polar Bear books by Hans de Beer are visually arresting, the windswept icy North Pole is made sweetly intimate and warm through the little bear Lars’ adventures with his family and friends.
In the “ABC the Animals and Me” exhibit, Lars is on the ice floe from the original picture books, and so children are encouraged to hop from one ice floe alphabet letter to the next to reach the island entrance to the igloo across the room and meet Lars, and then crawl through the tunnel to the next room in the exhibit.
There is another entrance to the Little Polar Bear’s activity from the hall with a full-color mural. I am intrigued by the addition of brown animal characters in both the Miffy series and The Little Polar Bear series, as this allows some additional representation for children of color in these traditional stories:
The Little Polar Bear’s interior tunnel leads children to the Elmer the Patchwork Elephant room where mirrors help children join Elmer in his unique, colorful self. K is for “Kleuren (Colors) with characters Elmer and Wilbur”:
The maze is scaled for small children, so I could only look on from the doorway, but the production value of these exhibition rooms is something to be experienced by young and old. You truly feel like you are in a magical world of make-believe.
The next exhibit space is dedicated to Pim and Pom, and since I started there, I went straight on to the next space with murals that I recognized, the distinctive illustrations and characters by Thé Tjong-Khing from the Fox and Hare series written by Sylvia Vanden Heede.
Here I reached the letter V for “Verstop je! Bij Vos and Haas” which means “Go hide! Fun with Fox and Hare!” This immediately reminded me of whack-a-mole games from the United States, with imagined children popping up out of the ground, but luckily there was no sign of mallets anywhere. Instead, word games with the letter V complete the room’s theme, and I could hear delighted children crawling through Fox and Hare’s lair:
When I reached Z for “Zealous love of night-time pancakes!” it was a true celebration of #DutchKidLit. A late night Dutch pancake party is in progress, and all the loveable characters from “ABC the Animals and Me” are gathered at a long, flowing table getting ready to enjoy one last group event before going home for a good night’s sleep:
The Children’s Book Museum exhibits “I Am Frog” and “ABC the Animals and Me” are true celebrations of #DutchKidLit authors, illustrations, and characters who are the childhood companions of millions of Dutch-speaking children and who then become the companions of their own children and then their grandchildren. These exhibits are wonderful for an afternoon out in The Hague, for both Dutch and English speakers, and will inspire more museum visits and many, many happy reading hours.
Highly recommended book culture and interactive museum fun for children ages 2 – 6 and their grown-ups.
Miffy the Artist
Written and illustrated by Dick Bruna
Originally published as Nijntje
Published by Tate Publishing, 2009
You can buy a copy of Miffy the Artist here.
Little Polar Bear – Where Are You Going Lars?
Written and illustrated by Hans de Beer
Originally published as Kleine ijsbeer, waar ga je naar toe?, De Vier Windstreken, 1994
Published by NorthSouth Books, 2011
You can buy a copy of Little Polar Bear – Where Are You Going Lars? here.
Frog and the Stranger
Written and illustrated by Max Velthuijs
Originally published as Kikker en de vreemdeling by Leopold, 2006
Published by Andersen Press, 2014
You can buy a copy of Frog and the Stranger here.
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