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Eric Carle activities will leave kids hungry for more

In my experience, most children would rather eat boiled kale than visit an art museum. All that dry classicism and incomprehensible modernism make leafy greens seem like the more preferable option on the "good for you" list. But as summer draws to a close, parents need a change of scenery. We would sooner down a hundred Pixy Stix than spend another day at the wading pool.

How nice, then, that Tacoma Art Museum is mounting an exhibit both generations can enjoy. From Oct. 7, 2006 through Jan. 21, 2007, TAM is presenting over 50 works of children's book author and illustrator Eric Carle. And that's just the beginning of a Carle-saturated fall season on the local arts scene.

The strategy is as old as that Goya etching your child just ignored: Use familiar elements to draw new visitors into an unfamiliar world. TAM is betting that Carle's instantly recognizable pictures will attract the museum-phobic among us, and children aren't the sole targets. "We want to introduce young people and parents to a museum experience by tying it to something familiar; in this case, Eric Carle," says Curator of Education Paula McArdle. "We want to overcome children's fear of museums, and that spills over to the parents also."

Carle's eminence in the world of children's literature can only help TAM's mission to be welcoming to children and families. "We want to be a fun place," McArdle says. "You don't have to know anything about art to walk in the door." Maybe not, but most parents and children are well-acquainted with Carle's colorful tissue-and-acrylic collages of animals and the natural world. The exhibit will feature many of his most beloved creations, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Polar Bear Polar Bear and The Very Quiet Cricket. A video presentation will show the artist at work, and books will be on hand in case the Caterpillar's winsome gaze draws you into his tale of greed, despair and, ultimately, triumph.

Other local arts organizations are offering a bonanza of additional Carle-centric activities. For example, 3- to 5-year-olds can learn about the animals in Carle's books, enjoy a gallery reading, and create art in TAM's Open Art Studio, courtesy of Tahoma Audubon's three-part "Young at Art: Reading Creatures" series, held on one Tuesday in October, November and December ($5-$8 per session, call 253-272-4258, Ext. 3030 for details and reservations). Page Ahead Children's Literacy Program invites children to create their own Carle-esque tissue collages and attend storytelling and performances in TAM's galleries at the Community Celebration, held on Saturday, Oct. 7 from noon-3 p.m. Bring a new or gently used book donation and receive free admission to the museum. Tacoma Public Library is featuring a story time theater program in which local actors translate Carle's work from book to stage (for the complete schedule, call 253-591-5666 or visit www.tacomapubliclibrary.org). And the Children's Museum of Tacoma promises to "immerse children in Eric's collage-making process," which may turn our beloved sons and daughters into veritable tissue junkies, thirsting for a Charmin fix. (Visit www.ChildrensMuseumofTacoma.org for details.)

In addition, consider Seattle Arts & Lectures' "A Conversation with Eric Carle" on Oct. 21 at Seattle's Town Hall. There's no age restriction to attend, and SAL knows that "Let's go to the lecture hall!" isn't exactly a rallying cry for modern youth. Having featured children's book authors before, SAL is prepared to neutralize the fidget factor. ("Polar Express" author Chris Van Allsburg's appearance in 2004 featured a pajama party in the lecture hall.) Just as TAM expects Carle's pictures to attract new museum fans, SAL reckons that his storytelling will draw nascent readers. "We think it will appeal to children as well as their parents, "says Executive Director Magit Rankin. "Eric is probably one of the first authors most people read, so I think he's a natural fit for us." Nick Clarke, director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., is scheduled to join the author for an interactive discussion about Carle's books and illustrations, some of which will flank the stage. For tickets ($18, under 25 $9) and more information, call 206-621-2230 or visit www.lectures.org. The next afternoon, Oct. 22, Clarke again joins Carle at the Rialto Theater in downtown Tacoma for a similar discussion, followed by a book signing and exhibition reception at TAM. Tickets to the 2 p.m. Rialto program are $20, $5 for children under 12, which includes museum admission. For reservations, phone 253-272-4258, Ext. 3030 or email programs@TacomaArtMuseum.org.

Given all of the riches above, families from every corner of Puget Sound should mosey down to Tacoma, perhaps to attend a performance followed by an art class and a gallery visit. As The Very Hungry Caterpillar learned, eating one nice green leaf will make you feel much better. With Eric Carle on exhibit, going to the museum will make you feel much better, too.

If you go

The Art of Eric Carle runs Oct. 7, 2006-Jan. 7, 2007 at the Tacoma Art Museum, 701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m., and every third Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Family admission is $25, adult $7.50, student/military/senior $6.50, 5 and under free.

Derek Blaylock lives in Seattle with his wife and two young sons.

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