The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.”

I think we all know those first words to a very special and very famous picture book: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by author and illustrator Eric Carle. It’s a childhood favorite of most parents, and one we read to our children in the first few years of their lives.  

What you may not know is that Eric Carle lived for many years in Northampton Massachusetts. And he founded a museum: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, dedicated to picture books, just like his famous The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in nearby Amherst. 

Until my child was born, I never even know there was theEric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, let alone that it was located in Amherst (which is actually kind of embarrassing since I went to UMASS…) I have rectified that, however, by having visited the museum with my boy twice now, and also by making it the subject of this week’s post.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is located in Amherst, near Hampshire College. It is about 10 minutes south of the UMASS campus. If you are familiar with the area, if I tell you that it is just around the corner from Atkins Farm, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you are not familiar with the area, you’ll want to get the GPS ready! 

It takes about an hour to reach the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art from Connecticut. We took a little detour to pick up my sister-in-law and niece, and ended up going the back roads through the middle of nowhere. I could not even tell you which towns we passed through- Granby and Holyoke maybe? I just know I kept going in a different direction than the GPS was trying to force on me, and she was NOT happy with the ‘recalculating’ at all! 

The museum is set in a quiet area of Amherst and stands out amongst its surroundings. It’s a beautiful museum! 

There is a side road you’ll want to drive down, and you’ll then want to immediately turn into the driveway of the museum. As my sister-in-law reminded me, both times we visited, I managed to miss that turn and ended up looping around in the back! 

The parking lot is directly beside the museum and there are plenty of spots. We have only visited on weekdays, but we never have an issue with parking. 

The outside of the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is pretty non-descript, it does not scream children’s museum or anything like that. In fact, you may even wonder if you are at the right place.

 Until, of course, you spot this:

We love the hungry caterpillar VW bug! 

After a few photo ops with the kids standing in front of the VW, we headed into the museum. When you first enter, you’ll notice how open and light the building is. It’s a very modern looking museum.  The walls and flooring are mainly neutral colors; the only color that pops out are Eric Carle’s paintings and the other pieces of artwork on display. 

During the winter, when you are armed with coats and other winter gear, it was a welcome sight when I spotted their coat room immediately to the right of the entrance. We decided to skip the strollers today, and let the toddlers roam free, but I did spot a couple strollers parked in the coat room as well. The museum is very open and easily accessible if you do decide to use the stroller. In fact, during our first visit when the kids were smaller, we each brought in a stroller. 

The coat room also has lockers if you want to drop off your bags. 

The front desk is immediately in front of you when you enter the main doors. Here you’ll pay for your admission. We came prepared, and picked up a museum pass from the Enfield Public Library, which granted all four of us free admission. Otherwise, admission to the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is $9 for adults and $6 for children ages 1 to 18 (as well as students, teachers and seniors). They also offer a family pack which admits 2 adults and 2 children for $22.50. 

While at the front desk, you can also find out the daily schedule. We planned our outing around a special Friday event the museum was holding called “Toddler & Preschool Play Series: Open Book, Open Play”.  These activities were included with our museum admission and included a special storytime in the library, followed by a craft in the art studio. If you decide to visit, definitely check out their schedule! They offer a number of great activities every week.

Unfortunately, due to the atrocious traffic through Springfield, we were late for storytime. It actually worked out since my child was apparently not in the mood for storytime anyway. “No story, momma, no”. Okay, then. It was not without trying, but he was really all set, and I don’t force my two year old, because then we ALL suffer. 

Instead we took the time to check out the museum and the special exhibits in the main foyer.  

We visited on a Friday, and the following day the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art was hosting the annual “Friendiversary”, which featured special characters from author Mo Willem’s picture books. On display today was that troublesome pigeon’s bus. This was a huge hit for my child! He loved driving the bus! Don’t let the toddler drive the bus! 

Also in the main foyer, you’ll find these colorful canvases painted by Mr. Carle himself. We had fun pointing out the different colors!

The kids also liked to look at this sculpture! 

At the end of the foyer, you will find a very hungry caterpillar.

The caterpillar has a couple little benches for the kids to hide in and even relax with a book. We spent a while checking out the caterpillar, taking lots of pictures, and hiding inside and outside of it! 

When we visited last year, they had a huge painting of the butterfly from The Very Hungry Caterpillar hanging right across from the caterpillar. It was not there this time; instead they had a new interactive piece of art work hanging on the wall. He had a great time playing with this. He pulled off the magnetic pieces, and moved them around to make his own creation! 

I will admit, I had a near heart attack when I looked over to see him ripping a painting off the wall… until my sister-in-law pointed out the sign. Phew… that could have cost his college savings! 

On the other side of the caterpillar (to the left), you’ll find the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art’s library. This is where storytime is held. As I mentioned, we skipped storytime. But we did end up going back in there after it was over, so we could read some books, color some pictures and play with the toys. Their library is great and there are so many books packed into it. We found his favorite, This is Not my Hat by Jon Klassen, and I read that to him while he played with the puzzles. 

Now of course, this is a museum, so we had to check out some artwork! 

The gallery is not overly large, but honestly, that is okay because little kids and art galleries don’t normally work so well together. They can only look at so many pictures on a wall before going wild.  

On the day we attended, only one of the galleries was open. The East gallery was under renovation. 

Of course, before entering the gallery, it is important to read the rules. And yes, I did turn my flash off. Hence why the pictures to follow are slightly fuzzy.

The galleries are large and open. The walls are covered with picture book art. Very colorful picture book art. The kids love it! It’s great to take the time to point out the animals and colors with them. Until they get bored, and then they can have a grand old time sitting on the bean bag chairs and playing with the toys provided.  

I enjoyed the artwork.  He enjoyed the brown bear bean bag chairs! 

After we spent all of five minutes in the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Gallery (I was impressed he didn’t escape sooner!), we headed to the art studio so we could let these children have some fun! 

The art studio is actually back towards the main entrance, towards the right. 

The room is beautiful with open windows that let the sun shine through. There are a number of workspaces set up for the kids, and they always have some special themed activity going on. Today, we were painting with black ink. Washable, black ink. 

There are instructors working in the studio who are happy to get your child set up. We were given each a strip of paper, and she explained the different tools we could use to paint with, including the standard paintbrush, along with some creative tools made from elastics, cut up cardboard, wood cut into different shapes, and so on. He had a great time creating his masterpiece.  

Our final products! 

The The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Art Studio also has a play area with coloring, puzzles, and other small toys. They also have a busy board when you first enter the studio with lots of buttons, locks and other things to figure out. I love these, and always think about making one, but then I ask myself, do I really want him to know how to unlatch a lock?? 

We spent some time checking out a few other areas of the museum, but did not partake in any other activities. 

They show films in the auditorium throughout the day. The times of the showing and length of the film varies. Our two children do not have that type of attention span yet, so we opted to skip this activity. If you do decide to see a film, the auditorium is located in the front of the museum, just to the left of the front desk. 

They also have a cafe at the museum, which is located down the opposite hall from the library. The cafe does not serve food, but there are vending machines and you are welcome to bring in your own snack or lunch. During warmer months, you can also sit outside. 

The museum also has two large bathrooms, one towards the cafe, and the other one next to the art studio. They offer changing tables, as well as child-size toilets and sinks.

Of course, no visit to a museum is complete without a stop in the gift shop! You’ll find lots of books here, as well as art supplies and other special themed items. 

We are really lucky to have this wonderful museum just a short road trip away. Plus, after you visit the museum, you’ll have an excuse to make a stop at the very awesome Atkins Farm!! Try something from the bakery if you can, it is the best around! 

While this is not your typical hands-on children’s museum, your children will enjoy visiting The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. If you have ever read your child any book by Eric Carle, they will love seeing his recognizable characters throughout the museum and in the gallery. The art studio makes creating artwork fun by encouraging them to be hands on and creative. The library allows them to escape through a favorite book, or maybe they’ll enjoy playing with the toys or coloring a picture. 

And you’ll enjoy yourself too, trust me!

This about sums it up…

 125 West Bay Road –  Amherst, MA

Website

Hours

September through June
CLOSED MONDAYS*
Tuesday – Friday* 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
*Open Monday through Friday during the Massachusetts February and April school vacation weeks.

July and August
Monday – Friday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Holiday Closures: Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

Admission: 

Adult $9
Youth (1-18), Student, Teacher, and Senior $6
Family (2 adults and 2 youth) $22.50
Discounts: 
Many local town libraries offer reduced admission with their museum pass. Make sure to check with your town library to see if this is offered! It definitely saves! 
Features:
  • Free Parking!
  • Large parking lot with plenty of available spaces
  • Stroller Friendly!
  • Handicapped-accessible
  • Bathrooms and Changing Station
  • Small dining area with vending machines offering beverages and snacks
  • Gift Shop on site
  • Check their website for a schedule of activities when planning your visit 
  • Art Studio is drop in and open to all- some projects are messy so plan to keep a change of clothes in the car! 

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