The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum is compelling and beautifully illustrated, though also dark and surrealistic. It's a very unusual picture book, one that stands out from the pack. The story is of a girl who, as you might expect from the title, lives in a model of a castle, inside a glass bubble at a museum. Children (like the girl pictured on the cover) peer through the glass at the girl inside the case, but when she dreams, she imagines children her own size, who can visit her.
Despite having many wondrous playthings, the girl is lonely in her castle. The creepy part comes near the end of the book, when the girl hangs a picture frame on her wall, so that the reader can leave a picture of him or herself, so that the girl "won't have to miss you at all." Now, inside her dreams, inside the book, the reader can keep the girl company. The last line is "Do you see her? She sees you?" It's deliciously creepy - the sort of book that kids will remember long after they're grown, though it might be a trifle scary for the youngest children.
Bernheimer's writing is spare, yet poetic. My favorite passage is:
"But, oh, it is beautiful!
There are moats and turrets
and bright shining lamps.
There are darkly winding streets
That gleam in the rain."
The writing includes frequent questions, and comes across as a conversation between the author and the reader. For example, "And what does she dream of, the girl in the castle inside the museum?" I think that this style will lend itself well to read-aloud.
Ceccoli's illustrations, rendered in acrylic paint, clay models, photography, and digital media, are simply stunning. The clay models and photography give certain elements of the pictures three-dimensionality, while other details are left for the background. Some of the paintings, especially those of people, feature blurred, dream-like edges, in keeping with the dream-like atmosphere of the book.
The two paintings of young girls, apparently sisters, peering into the globe around the castle are compelling, with large eyes that look real (although the girls as a whole are rather doll-like and surreal). The castle is a whimsical treat, filled with engaging and unexpected toys. My favorite aspect of the illustrations is the Escher-like flooring in the girl's bedroom, which makes it appear as though some of the toys are floating.
I think that this will be a somewhat polarizing book. Kids, and their parents, will either love it or hate it. It's definitely not for everyone. But for those with a taste for magical castles, and ready for a hint of dark mystery, The Girl in the Castle inside the Museum is not to be missed. The illustrations pull the reader in, and don't let go.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.