Brooklyn Museum: Ten best pieces of artwork for kids

The envelope-pushing Brooklyn Museum is a national treasure, and it's chock-full of artwork for kids, from mysterious bronze owls to 2,000-year-old mummies

 (Photograph: JongHeon Martin Kim)
Photograph: JongHeon Martin KimMaximum Sensation by Mounir FatmiExpand kids' definition of artwork by letting them get an up-close look at this 2010 installation of skateboards embellished with Islamic prayer rugs by the Moroccan-born, Paris-based artist Mounir Fatmi. The sight of the skateboard jumble alone will get their adrenaline flowing, in part because each board looks ready to go. Fatmi's work explores the intersection of cultures—here the worlds of Muslim prayer and skateboarding—and the concept of hybrids: something new and alive that emerges from the culture clash. Fourth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumA Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie by Albert BierstadtAlbert Bierstadt's gargantuan landscape painting of an approaching storm in the Rockies is bound to impress city kids with its grandeur, size (it's nearly 12 feet wide and seven feet tall) and astonishing detail. In fact, it toured the country for a year upon its completion in 1866, thrilling audiences with its almost mythical vista. Have kids stand at a distance and record their impressions, then step up close to search the work for such details as teepees along the banks of a river, a startled deer, an airborne eagle. Then stretch their imaginations by asking them what might be different there today. Fifth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumThe Mummy ChamberKids old enough to grapple with such concepts as the afterlife (or Halloween!) will relish the museum's awe-inspiring Mummy Chamber, a long-term installation of 170-plus artifacts that transports viewers to ancient Egypt. Highlights include the mummy of Hor (circa 712–664 B.C.E.), hidden from view within an ornate cartonnage, and the mummy of Egyptian priest Thothirdes (circa 664–525 B.C.E); both were thought to be women before a CT scan in 2009 proved otherwise. Wall texts illuminate the beliefs that gave rise to the practice of mummification and details of the actual, step-by-step process. Kids can also study shabties, figurines placed inside the mummy's tomb to work magic for the deceased in the afterlife, and such ritual objects as gold earrings, amulets and mummy boards (wooden covers placed over the body). Third floor
 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)
Photograph: Caroline Voagen NelsonThe Jan Martense Schenck House and the Nicholas Schenck HouseIt's not every day that one encounters an actual house within the walls of a museum, but the Brooklyn Museum sports two: the red, farmhouse-like Jan Martense Schenck House, built by a Dutch settler in Brooklyn circa 1675, and the Nicholas Schenck House right next to it, constructed 100 years later in what is now Canarsie, Brooklyn, by Jan's grandson Nicholas. Young visitors can get a sense of what life was like for the families who dwelled in them by stepping inside to study the lovingly re-created 18th- and 19th-century interiors (behind glass), and also bone up on their history by learning about the houses' inhabitants, which in both cases included African-American slaves. Fourth floor
 (Photograph: Caroline Voagen Nelson)
Photograph: Caroline Voagen NelsonHippopotamusThe adorable, turquoise hippo in the Egyptian galleries will no doubt catch kids' eyes, but the animal's cultural significance may capture their imaginations as well. The Nile-dwelling creatures were one of man's most imposing threats—mostly to fishermen who disturbed the swimming, reed-munching creatures—and over time Egyptians' fear turned into worship. This little guy, created out of faience (a substance made of ground quartz) circa 1938-1539 B.C.E., would likely have been buried with its tomb owner, but not before its legs were broken, so the animal would pose no threat in the afterlife. Here, the legs have been reattached, to show how the hippo would have looked when it was made. Fifth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumThe Peaceable Kingdom by Edward HicksAnimal lovers will be drawn to this painting's fascinating menagerie, from charming lambs and sweet bovines to lions, leopards and…small children. Based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah that envisions a time when "the wolf will live with the lamb," the work (1833-34) is one of nearly 60 of the same theme painted by Quaker minister Edward Hicks. Kids might get a kick out of knowing that he began as a sign painter, something that makes sense of the foreground's lack of depth. Bonus: See if your crew can discern the identity of the two groups of people in the background and what they're doing. Fifth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumBrooklyn Bridge by Georgia O'KeeffeBefore letting kids approach the work and its signage, see if they can guess what city landmark Georgia O'Keeffe's painting depicts. If they recognize it instantly, ask them to consider why O'Keeffe focused on the bridge's arches, and to come up with some words to describe the style of her unique take on the span. The work is one of the last the artist painted before moving permanently to New Mexico in 1949, and is sometimes thought of as a paean to the city she was leaving. Fifth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumClouds over the Black Sea–Crimea by Boris AnisfeldRussian-born artist Boris Anisfeld created this striking painting, at first glance a two-dimensional abstraction, in 1906. After seeing if your crew can make sense of the painting (what is the point of view, and does that jibe with the sailboats, ship and distant horizon?), see if they can figure out how the artist came to have such an unusual perspective—and let them know that commercial airplanes and even Zeppelins hadn't started flying when he painting the picture. (Hint: The Crimean Peninsula is known for its cliffs along an otherwise flat Black Sea coastline.) Third floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumDawn in the Woods in Springtime and Sunset in the Autumn Woods by Tiffany StudiosThis pair of nearly 12-foot-tall, 1905 stained-glass windows, on loan from a Brooklyn Church that sold its building in the 1990s, make a perfect art history lesson in the significance of color palettes and the ways in which depictions of nature can symbolize the human life cycle. First see if your little viewers can tell which window represents spring and which fall, then ask how Louis Comfort Tiffany's different uses of color led them to that conclusion. Spin off the conversation from there to talk about the emotions each window elicits, and if these emotions have a correlation in the kids' actual experience of the two seasons. Fourth floor
 (Courtesy Brooklyn Museum)
Courtesy Brooklyn MuseumStanding owls, from the New York Herald Building, NYC (1893-1895)Given children's penchant for finding anything hidden, the two owls perched in the niche of the museum's exposed brick wall in the Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion, at the main entrance, aren't likely to go unnoticed. The bronze horned owls are two of but a few remnants of newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett Jr's New York Herald Building, which occupied Herald Square from 1895 to 1921. The pair bordered the edge of the building's roof with 20 other bronze owls, all of which were outfitted with electric eyes that glowed in the dark, blinking to the sounds of the building's striking clock. Little history buffs can find that historic clock, along with a couple more owls, in Herald Square today.

Artwork for kids may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the Borough of Kings, but the envelope-pushing Brooklyn Museum is overflowing with it, which is why we chose it to be the second in our artwork-for-kids series, after last year's article on the top ten artworks for kids at MoMA. Sure, the temporary museum exhibits are amazing, from the current "Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui" to past kid-friendly blockbusters like last year's Keith Haring exhibit and amazingretrospective of work by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel, but the museum's permanent collection abounds with artworks that are not only great in their own right but also engage kids. Scroll through our picks of artwork for kids at what to us is one of NYC's best family attractions—from a winsome hippo to a majestic, 19th-century view of the Rockies.