New art-themed children’s book draws inspiration from the MIA

Although he’s written and illustrated 10 children’s books, David LaRochelle has not always had a comfortable relationship with the world of art.

“Even though I was an art major at St. Olaf College I sometimes felt like an imposter,” LaRochelle recalled, “because I wasn’t that interested in art history and going to museums to look at paintings carefully.”

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LaRochelle’s attitude toward museums has changed over the years. He came to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts frequently while working on his latest children’s book, “Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure.” In it young Arlo is taken on his first trip to a museum and discovers that, with the help of his active imagination, it’s a fascinating and exciting place.

“I learned to take museums on my own terms,” he said while sitting on a bench in a gallery of the MIA. “The book is a reflection that there are lots of ways to approach art. It doesn’t have to be a serious chore; it can be a joyful experience.”

David LaRochelle opens his new children’s book “Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure” to a page which includes images inspired by paintings in the MIA’s collection, seen on the wall. (MPR Photo/Marianne Combs)

“Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure” is a flap book, featuring 50 different places where readers can lift a flap on a painting or a sculpture to reveal what Arlo sees with his imagination.

The book includes drawings of numerous works of art, some of which were directly inspired by art in the MIA’s collection. Portraits of Lucas Van Voorst and Katerina Van Voorst by Paulus Moreelse made it into the book, and Henri Matisse’s “Boy with a Butterfly Net” inspired a painting of a boy with a baseball bat.

A page from David LaRochelle’s book “Arlo’s Artrageous Adventure” which features a painting inspired by Matisse’s “Boy with a Butterfly Net”

LaRochelle’s original working title for the book was “We’re going to the art museum whether you like it or not,” which he said captured one view of art. He said while museums work constantly to make their institutions accessible, some people take a more traditional approach.

“The old lady — I refer to her as Arlo’s grandmother — is the voice of authority, or what is considered ‘proper,'” explained LaRochelle. “She’s telling Arlo how he should enjoy the art. But as they move along she’s oblivious to what’s happening, that his imagination is bringing those paintings to life.”

LaRochelle said his frequent visits to the MIA reminded him that museums hold much more than paintings. With that in mind, the book is also filled with sculpture, scrolls, masks, a sarcophagus, and a big silver tureen similar to one on display in the MIA galleries.

“I couldn’t have done this book without my trips here,” LaRochelle said.