Curating for Kids

Hannah’s Collections – Marthe Jocelyn, Dutton Children’s Books, 2000

hannah cover

While absorption in collecting some particular item may not be universal in childhood, it is certainly well known.  Coins, rocks, trading cards, buttons, or cast-off pieces of almost anything granted new meaning in a collection are a hobby, even an obsession, of many kids. In Hannah’s Collections, author and illustrator Marthe Jocelyn (author of Aggie Morton Mystery Queen) creates one girl and her eclectic groups of found objects, using a simple narrative and pictures composed of collaged elements.  The book is a celebration of the impulse to amass special stuff, and a beautiful representation of that impulse in carefully curated pictures, plus a little math thrown in.

When Hannah’s teacher asks her class to choose one collection and bring it to school, Hannah is genuinely confused, even worried. How can she restrict her exhibit to one collectible, when she has accumulated several: seashells, hair barrettes, stamps, Popsicle sticks, “little creatures,” and more. The two-page spread of Hannah’s bedroom is so vivid, almost three dimensional, that it captures children’s attempts to create their own small-scale universe.  From the tray of artfully arranged buttons to the small figures lined up on top of the bookcase, the room is like a small museum.  There is appropriate space between objects, emphasizing that Hannah does not only acquire things; she allocates to each item its own particular environment. She also enumerates the parts of her collections, and thinks about different numerical ways to sort and divide them.


This book is twenty years old.  It is now noticeable when Hannah, in order to make a seemingly impossible decision, “…pressed her fists against her eyes until she saw fireworks,” inducing a kind of psychedelic experience instead of just intuition. You might want to caution young children against doing this.  But even without optical damage, a creative child might arrive at Hannah’s conclusion: assemble her choices as a sculpture, with glue, tacks, string, tape, and rubber bands (the list of adhesives is a collection in itself). Hannah declares her sculpture to be not just a bunch of highlights from her collections, but the beginning of “my new sculpture collection.”

Even if your child’s, or your own, collecting ambitions, are more limited and less transformative, you will identify with Hannah’s ability to find beauty in the ordinary components of everyday life.

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