The Best Kept Secret No One is Telling You About

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Not that Van Gogh, Picasso, Pollack and Chagall aren’t great artists and everything. But, sometimes, a tot is more in the mood for Tomie dePaola. And Batman. You, on the other hand, would be happy just to visit someplace new, preferably indoors and warm, where the kiddos can run around, and maybe pick up a little culture and history at the same time. Oh, and if it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, that would be pretty sweet, too.

Through December 22, 2012, that spot is the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, located on 128 East 63rd Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues. Now, granted, as a rule, the words “society” and “museum” rarely go hand in hand with “toddler” and “stir crazy.” But, through November and December, the Society is spotlighting an exhibition entitled “The Original Art: Celebrating the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration,” and it is, quite frankly, the best kept kid-friendly secret in NYC.

Color Me Mine:
Two entire floors of this otherwise five floor museum (the ground floor and the basement, so you don’t have too many stairs to climb; and there’s even a place to park strollers) have been turned into a gallery of mesmerizing children’s book art, ranging from the cartoonish whimsy of Tomie dePaola to the explosive color of Joey Chou’s It’s a Small World to Bryan Collier’s nostalgia-hued I, Too, Am America to the bleak black and white pencil drawings of Eugene Yelchin’s Breaking Stalin’s Nose, plus other works done in watercolor, prints, collage, and more.

Marvel at a vibrant portrait of Martin Luther King sharing space with an Asian family engraved into a traditional serving dish, next to scenes from a blizzard underneath paper cut-outs of a family eating watermelon at the beach. And then check out an animated cartoon in what is perhaps NYC’s tiniest screening room (six people can fit at a time, tops.  Even when three of them are miniature. But, the movie is on a perennial loop, and you can stay as long as you like watching Strega Nona’s magic spaghetti attempt to take over a small, Italian village.)

Book It:
The best part, though, is that a majority of the illustrations mounted on the walls are represented in the four shelves of children’s books stacked at the center of the room. You can read about a fish who stole a hat, follow it up with a look inside an astronaut’s space capsule, and finish off with a vampire who wants to be a ballerina!  There are picture books, and chapter books. Classics like Cinderella and modern art minimalism.

There are places to sit and read, and plenty of room to run around. Best of all, the museum opens at 10:00 am every weekday morning – convenient for filling up that post-breakfast, pre-nap lull, and it’s completely free to enter. (Though many of the books are available for sale, and if your little guy really loves a title, it may be tricky to leave without picking up a few for repeat performances at home.)

As an added bonus, for older kids – not to mention Mom and Dad – the Society for Illustrators is now home to The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. Housed on the second floor (again, not that much walking), the exhibition, also running through December 22, features selections from their private collection, and is scheduled to be rotated regularly.  On view now are original panels with editorial notes from domestic oriented strips like Peanuts, Little Orphan Annie, Dennis the Menace, and Archie, as well as the action adventures of Terry and the Pirates, Batman and Ghost Rider, plus a few political cartoons from the 1930s to remind the older folks how the more things change…well, you know.

Do you have a hidden NYC gem to hibernate in through the winter?  Let us know!

— Alina Adams