Growing up in post-war Australia (yes, I’m one of those awful baby-boomers) is so far removed from the experiences of most expats in Brno that I might as well have been born on Mars.
I lived on a small ‘farm’ of around 2500 acres in Western Queensland. We grew wheat and raised cattle, and my closest companions were my ponies and my dog. We were isolated but not as remote as many families who lived on properties further west that were thousands of square miles in size and many hundreds of miles from their nearest neighbour.
We were poor as most people were then, so books were a luxury we could seldom afford. The closest library was 3 hours away, over a dirt corrugated road. Nevertheless, my favourite activity as a child was reading.
The State Government library in Brisbane would send parcels of books on trains to remote areas, on loan for a month. I used to order Arthur Mee’s The Children’s Encyclopaedia. These volumes were not in the form of a traditional encyclopaedia. They consisted of what seemed like random collections of articles, stories and projects aimed at different age groups, from children still learning to read, to those about to leave primary school: mathematical puzzles; stories of famous explorers, musicians, artists, scientists; things to make or do; poetry both good and bad and entertaining; and jokes, riddles and limericks. They were all there.
Each volume of this encyclopaedia would keep me entertained for an entire month before being packed up and sent back on the same train that carried a new box to me. I credit Arthur Mee with my life-long love of reading and desire to explore the world.
Don’t worry, this month’s blog is not a walk down my memory lane but explains why I related to the story about the Children’s Art Library in the latest edition of the Czech/English magazine of the Moravská galerie.
The library, in the Pražák Palace, contains a small but thoughtful collection of art books for children. Some books are in Czech, but since there are not many of those in publication, the Head of Education at the Museum, Silvie Šeborová, visited London herself to buy books in English to add to the collection.
Silvie writes in the magazine that her memories of childhood are also of reading books – on art, a picture book of Czech history and legends, and illustrated encyclopaedias. In her case it was in her father’s library when she ill, and she wonders if this influenced her into studying art history.
One of her favourite books in the collection is Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories, by Michael Birdwhich. This book uses the form of 70 short stories about the artists and the way they created their work, to teach children about art history – from prehistoric paintings to Ai Weiwei. The stories are imaginative and entertaining, and relevant in time and place to the art that accompanies them. It’s a fabulous book and I will definitely be buying a copy for my granddaughter for her eighth birthday.
Another book is called Art Detective and takes famous paintings, removes some features and objects and asks the reader to ‘spot the difference’. There are also books on Architecture, Architecture according to Pigeons, on fashion, Coco Chanel, and many on individual artists, I am Marc Chagall.
If you want your children to learn about art and museums you must spend a few hours with them at this library on the 3rd floor of the Pražák Palace (Husova 18, enter via the sculpture park). ‘Most of the books can be borrowed and taken home’ writes Silvie ‘and all can be taken to the children’s playroom on the ground floor of the Pražák palác where children can come in and browse’.
This is what I love about Brno. The longer you live here the more you discover. Maybe because most of us don’t speak the language, we have to make an effort to find out what’s around town and be adventurous in walking through that closed door to a gallery or a museum. Maybe it’s because we have moved here from another place and we are not the sort of people to stay at home in our comfort zone. Maybe it’s because we have so many visitors to entertain we explore more places of interest than locals do!
Whatever the reason, there are always new places to experience in Brno – and this one is special. The Museum also plans to start guided tours in autumn in English beginning with the permanent collection ART IS HERE in Pražák Palace. Maybe you can combine this tour with a visit to the Children Art library. Looking forward to seeing you there!