Max and the Dumb Flower Picture by Martha G. Alexander

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture is a book with an agenda. Namely, to encourage children to create their own art, instead of just coloring “inside the lines”. While I applaud the message, the vehicle is somewhat problematic for me. This is a book to carefully discuss with your children.

Max, a small boy of preschool age, doesn’t want to color the “dumb flower picture” his teacher has chosen for his Mother’s Day gift. Max knows his mom would much prefer something he’s created himself. However, Max is too small to express this to his teacher, so he reacts in typical small-child fashion – he refuses to obey. Actually, he pouts, he stomps, he eventually runs out of the classroom and hides. His teacher is so worried, she calls the police to help find him. When Max is finally found, he has created his very own picture for his mom, which so inspires the other children they rush back to their desks to create something of their own, too. In the end, the mothers are all thrilled with their unique gifts, and the teacher has learned an important lesson from this small boy.

Does this bother any one else?

Reading this to my 3- and 5-year-olds, we had to discuss how worried the teacher and the policeman were when they couldn’t find Max. While Max did have a good point, in wanting to make his own picture, he carried it out badly. Most importantly, we discussed other, better, ways that Max could have handled the situation. A valuable lesson to be sure, but one you want to be prepared to teach.

Although the story could probably be appreciated by a toddler, the necessary discussion to follow makes it more suited for an older child, perhaps 4 – 6 years old.

Available on Amazon

Max and the Dumb Flower Picture by Martha G. Alexander, illustrated by Martha Alexander and  James Rumford. Charlesbridge, 2009.

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Museum 123 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum 123 is a different sort of counting book. Rather than asking a child to count objects on a plain white page, let’s count objects found in world-famous artwork, carefully selected by the experts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

It seemed like a good idea. We could get double the educational time, practicing counting and exploring fine art at the same time. In practice, however, it didn’t work out so neatly. The pictures aren’t labeled, so sometimes we had to hunt for what we were supposed to be counting, which meant my 3-year-old quickly lost interest; so much for math. Then again, the pictures are small portions of the artwork, so we often didn’t have any idea of what the larger work was about; so much for exploring art. In the end, this was a book we put back on the shelf.

I do think the idea is a fundamentally sound, though. Counting things in real life, like the grocery store, is a common and effective way to teach numbers. Finding things to count in a painting or other artwork is a good way to get kids to pay close attention to what they’re seeing. I think the aspect that the book missed is the context; to appreciate the artwork, we need to be able to see the entire thing.

So grab a coffee-table art book from the library, pull up some pictures from a website, or head down to your local art museum. You and your child can search out things to count, colors, shapes, letters, and more, and then you can extend the conversation by discussing what might be happening in the picture. You don’t have to be an art expert at all, just willing to stop and look a while.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art can be found online at www.metmuseum.org

Available on Amazon

Museum 123 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Little, Brown and Company, 2004.

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