The hybrid exhibits of the story museum: The child as creative artist and the limits to hands-on participation

Naomi Hamer


Since the Brooklyn Children’s Museum opened in 1899, the concept of the children’s museum has evolved internationally as a non-profit public institution focused on informal family-centred education and interactive play environments (Acosta 2000; Allen 2004). The majority of these museums highlight science education; however, over the past decade, a new specialized institution has emerged in the form of the children’s story museum that concentrates on children’s literature, storytelling, and picture book illustration. These story museums feature childhood artifacts through the curatorial and display conventions of museums and art galleries, in combination with the active play environments and learning stations of science-oriented children’s museums. These exhibits also reflect the changing place of the museum as an institution in the age of the “participatory museum”: a movement away from collections towards interactive curatorial practices across physical and digital archives (Simon 2010; Janes 2011). Framed by cross-disciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches from critical children’s museology, picture book theory, and children’s culture studies, this analysis draws upon selected examples (2014-2018) of curatorial practices, exhibits, and the spatial/ architectural design from Seven Stories: National Centre for Children’s Books (Newcastle, UK), the Hans Christian Andersen Haus/Tinderbox (Odense, Denmark), and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Amherst, MA, USA). These institutions provide distinctive venues to examine the tensions between discourses of museums as institutions that house collections of material artifacts including children’s literature texts, discourses of the creative child and ‘hands-on’ engagement (Ogata 2013); and discourses of critical engagement and participatory museums. While these exhibits affirm idealized representations of childhood to some extent, participatory engagements across old and new media within these spaces have significant potential for critical and subversive dialogue with ideological constructions and representations of gender, race, socio-economic class, mobility and nationalism rooted in the children’s literature texts. 


children’s museums, children’s literature, participatory museums

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Copyright (c) 2019 Naomi Hamer

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360

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