The Snowy Day to Knuffle Bunny: Caldecott Winners to Enjoy with Your Kids

I’ve always been a reader. Some of my life’s crazy historical obsessions started with a children’s one-volume encyclopedia I received as a gift when I was ten, and today I probably own 2,000 books. To me books are the best possible means for “walking in someone else’s shoes.” As book buyer for Audrey’s Museum Store, I’m glad to see some of our visitors go home with books like The Snowy Day, pictured above (with me peeping out from behind!).

I’ve always been a reader. Some of my life’s crazy historical obsessions started with a children’s one-volume encyclopedia I received as a gift when I was ten, and today I probably own 2,000 books. To me books are the best possible means for “walking in someone else’s shoes.” As book buyer for Audrey’s Museum Store, I’m glad to see some of our visitors go home with books like The Snowy Day, pictured above (with me peeping out from behind!).

Summer’s here, which means families with kids across the southland are in summer break mode (even if yours aren’t quite school-age yet). Let your kids travel to new worlds and meet new people between the covers of some first-rate children’s literature! One of the best ways to put together a top-notch book list for the littlest ones in your family is, of course, to ask for recommendations from a librarian. Even better, get recommendations from a whole bunch of librarians by checking out the work of current and past winners of the Caldecott Medal.

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the most distinguished illustrated children’s book published that year. The exhibition The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats—on view at the Skirball through September 7—afforded us the wonderful opportunity to highlight one of the recipients of this special award (The Snowy Day received the medal in 1963).

Here are a few Caldecott honorees we chose to feature in Audrey’s Museum Store along with all of Keats’s in-print books:

noahs ark_skirball_caldecott winner


Noah’s Ark, by Peter Spier

With amazingly detailed pictures, Spier tells the Noah story with almost no words.  Perfect for a family who wants to create their own take on this classic story.


Continue reading

Spreading the Truth about Cream Cheese

cream_cheese_skirball_lgWhat is a bagel without the schmear? How and when did this creamy, delectable spread make its way onto our plates? In anticipation of his talk at the Skirball on June 24, we asked Rabbi Jeff Marx, a historian of cream cheese and rabbi to The Santa Monica Synagogue, to answer a few of these questions and to share his recommendation for the best cream cheese vehicle (I took the liberty of trying out his suggestion!).


At the Skirball, you’ll be sharing a lot about the little-known history of cream cheese. What’s one remarkable fact about schmear that surprises most people?  That there was no cream cheese in Eastern Europe. Even more surprising is when bagel, cream cheese, and lox first became a combination. And no, I’m not going to tell you that now. You’ll have to wait for the lecture!

How did you get interested in this topic in the first place?
I was writing a history of two Lithuanian brothers who came to America and started Breakstone Bros. Dairy in New York. Some Breakstone family members suggested that the brothers introduced cream cheese to America. When I investigated further, it turned out that in fact cream cheese had been here in the U.S. before they stepped off the boat. I decided to put a footnote in my history indicating this and stating when cream cheese manufacturing actually began. Six years later, I finished the footnote! Continue reading

Seduced By Shteyngart

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

I first heard Gary Shteyngart speak at the Skirball in 2010, on the book tour for his novel Super Sad True Love Story. That evening, at the end of his reading, I dutifully made my way to the signing table to get my copy autographed.

“Ah, to Jennifer,” Shteyngart said, smiling and raising one eyebrow as he signed my book—the raised brow he employs occasionally when photographed. (Years later, I would learn the significance of my name to Gary, the cause of that raised eyebrow, but I am getting ahead of myself …). That elevated brow boomeranged back at me a few years later, in the headshot sent to promote Shteyngart’s January 16 reading of his new memoir, Little Failure—again at the Skirball. There was that same damn eyebrow arching over the rim of Gary’s eyeglasses, a straight gaze into the camera, a smirky half-grin, chin cupped in hand.

Shteyngart headshot © Brigitte LacombeEver since I saw him at that first Skirball talk, Shteyngart has always just seemed THERE. Every few months I’d come across one of his really funny short stories in the New Yorker, Travel + Leisure, or the New York Times.

And the guy sure has a way with the literary blurb! It feels like for nearly every book I’ve even considered reading in the past year or so, Shteyngart has already been there, read it, and come up with a hilarious, tweet-worthy blurb. There’s even a Tumblr feed dedicated to his masterful blurbs.

This went on for YEARS. So in December, in preparation for his upcoming Skirball reading, I cracked open the preview proof of Little Failure with anticipation. After all, Andy Borowitz, an eminent judge of funniness, declared the book to be “hilarious and moving” in the New York Times. I expected some witty, excellent writing and a good social misfit story. I also expected a lot of weirdness. Continue reading

Winter To-Do List: Part 2

Building upon yesterday’s post, our curators have two more recommendations for your winter break excursions. Erin Curtis, who is managing our current retrospective, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, visited the Autry’s new permanent exhibition. And Erin Clancey, who is herself hard at work on a Skirball exhibition about a rock legend (to be announced soon!), ventured to the Grammy Museum to see an exhibition honoring rock music icon Ringo Starr. Read below for two more exhibitions to add to your list. And don’t forget—any well-planned winter break museum crawl should also include our Global Citizen, so we hope to see you at the Skirball this month. Happy museum-going!


Once upon a Time

Art of the WestI had been planning to visit Art of the West, the new permanent exhibition at the Autry National Center, since it opened on June 15. I’ve long enjoyed the Autry’s exhibitions about the American West, in part because I find “the West” to be a fascinatingly imprecise concept (each person has different ideas about exactly who and what comprises the West). I was looking forward to seeing a new display of art from the Autry’s collection that examines, in the words of the Autry’s website, “how shared values and interests have inspired artists from different cultures and times to create distinctive, powerful works that speak to their experience of the West as both a destination and a home.” Also, I too like cowboys.

War Music II by Mateo Romero, on display with a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle.

War Music II by Mateo Romero, on display with a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle.

The pieces in the exhibition are organized around three simple yet powerful themes: “Religion and Ritual,” “Land and Landscape,” and “Migration and Movement.” Grouping diverse objects together in broad categories allows for unusual, eye-catching, and often provocative juxtapositions of pieces from different places, cultures, and periods. In the “Migration and Movement” section, a 1948 Indian Roadmaster motorcycle sits beneath Mateo Romero’s War Music II.

Around the corner, in the “Religion and Ritual” section, a totem pole from the Pacific Northwest stands near a crucifix of roughly equal height. These often unexpected pairings are one of the show’s strengths.

David Levinthal’s The Wild West series.

David Levinthal’s The Wild West series.

I was also particularly drawn to the exhibition’s photographs, including David Levinthal’s six-part series The Wild West, for which the artist photographed toys in order to depict the West as he imagined it in his childhood. There is also a lovely display titled “Yosemite after Adams,” dedicated to the challenges that contemporary landscape photographers face in capturing Yosemite National Park years after it was so famously and definitively documented by Ansel Adams. Okay, there weren’t any sharks (as a visitor requested in my photo above), but a visit to the Art of the West is my winter break recommendation nonetheless.

Read the Los Angeles Times review of Art of the West.

Erin Curtis



“Don’t Pass Me By”

Ludwig black pearl drum set with Beatles logo

Ludwig black pearl drum set with Beatles logo

If you are a fan of The Beatles (who isn’t?), don’t pass on the exhibition Ringo: Peace & Love, currently at the Grammy Museum until March 30, 2014. Continue reading

Winter To-Do List: Go Behind the Lens

Winter is a great season to spend a cozy afternoon experiencing any one of the amazing museums L.A. has to offer, including the Skirball! We asked our curators to recommend some of their favorite exhibitions currently on display around town. Doris Berger and Linde Lehtinen, who are busy curating the upcoming Skirball exhibition Light and Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, took some time to check out a few fascinating film and photography exhibitions. Check back tomorrow for recommendations from Erin Clancey and Erin Curtis!


Zoom into a Film Shack

Varda-2The French filmmaker Agnès Varda (b. 1928) is a hero of mine. Many years ago, her films opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to be personal, political, and playful all at once. Varda has been making films in that vein since the 1960s, reaching a diverse audience with narrative and documentary films alike.

The movie industry has changed a lot in the past decades, as have museums, and the worlds seem to be blending together. Varda’s more recent visibility pays tribute to that; her place is not only in cinema anymore. Agnès Varda in Californialand, a small exhibition currently at LACMA through June 22, 2014, showcases films that Varda made in California when she spent time here with her family in 1967–69 and 1980–81. One of the highlights of the exhibition, which features a sculptural installation and a selection of her photographs, is a film shack containing thousands of images from the shooting of Varda’s 1969 film LIONS LOVE (… AND LIES). Continue reading

Architect Moshe Safdie Likes Legos (Breaking Bad Fans Do, Too)

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

Here’s my attempt to build Habitat ’67 out of Legos like Moshe Safdie once did. My preschooler wanted her Duplo® back… and I longed for stronger spatial skills.

If you’re a parent of a young child, like I am, you likely have LEGO® in your house. With some relief—since Legos are a fairly wholesome, harmless distraction—and maybe even pride, you’ve watched your kid stack and lock those distinctive bricks of plastic for hours on end. You’ve probably gotten down on the floor to join the fun. [Less fun: stepping on a Lego.]

Lately it feels like I encounter Legos in more places than my living room. In early summer, I kept hearing about an exhibition, The Art of the Brick®, on view at a surprising venue: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. At its hilltop museum, my family and I eyed thirty awe-inspiring sculptures by “brick artist” Nathan Sawaya, who used thousands of Legos to handcraft each work. A few weeks later, two separate groups of friends reported that the new hotel at LEGOLAND was actually pretty cool. In mid-July, I stumbled upon a story on probing why the Danish toy company had launched a product line specifically for girls. The reporter concluded with the right question: “Would it be so hard to develop—even market—toys for girls and boys to enjoy together?” On his “Thinking Brickly” blog, David Pickett studies the Lego gender gap more closely.

As summer waned, Legos continued to pop up in my life. Lost in a Breaking Bad internet vortex as the series finale drew near, I learned that a Lego imitator, Citizen Brick, quickly sold out of its controversial “Superlab Playset,” featuring “minifigs” of Walt (in yellow lab suit), Gus (in Los Pollos Hermanos button-down), and Mike (sporting grey stubble but looking far less hard-boiled as on TV).

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s underground “office” = totally disturbing plaything

Eventually Legos became a topic of conversation at work, as we geared up for our fall exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, opening October 22. As it turns out, the renowned architect, who has designed and built our Skirball campus in four phases over thirty years, used to toy around with Legos early in his career. In his book The City After the Automobile: An Architect’s Vision (Westview, 1998), Safdie describes how he began to develop a new concept for urban housing:

I began constructing large models out of Lego, stacking plastic blocks representing houses one on top of the other, each one forming a roof garden for the unit above…. This would lead two years later to Habitat, a project I designed and constructed as part of the 1967 world’s fair in Montreal.

Each of the units kinda does look like a Lego, huh? Habitat’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

Each of the units kinda looks like a Lego, huh? Habitat ’67. Construction view. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

Continue reading

Reading the New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction

I met Taly Ravid when I enrolled in her course “Anne Frank Redux,” offered earlier this year through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. In that course, Taly led fascinating sessions that combined engaging lectures and discussions about Anne Frank’s original diary as well as other literary treatments of the book. Taly, who is completing a PhD in English at UCLA specializing in contemporary American literature, created a stimulating environment that produced dynamic, meaningful conversations no one wanted to end. In fact, due to the students’ enthusiastic response to the course, an additional session was added!

The line-up for Taly Ravid's upcoming course at the Skirball.

The line-up for Taly Ravid’s upcoming course at the Skirball.

I have no doubt that Taly’s new course, “The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction”—beginning next Wednesday, September 25—will offer an equally enriching experience. Read Taly’s interview below to learn more about what inspired her to create this course and to get a sense of her innovative thinking and breadth of knowledge, which are matched only by her contagious passion for American literature. There is still time to sign up! You can register here…

What inspired you to develop this course?
A few years ago, the New Yorker published its “20 under 40” list—a much-buzzed-about group of promising, notable writers under the age of 40 who are at the top of the American literary scene. About a third of the writers on the list are Jewish, yet David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, insisted (in a New York Times interview) that the writers have nothing much in common, and the press paid little, if any, attention to these writers’ affiliation with Judaism. That struck me as a big cultural shift. Just a few short generations ago, the literary world bound writers like Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth to their Taly Ravid's bookshelfJewishness. Those writers were presented to readers not as American writers, but as American Jewish writers. This latest New Yorker list seemed to be doing the opposite. Continue reading

Kal-El, Man of Steel

coverartFor the twelve-year-old boy in me who wrote a fifteen-page paper on the effect of comic books on children during World War II, Superman at 75: A Jewish Hero for All Time is a dream program. Joining together an expert like Larry Tye with Jack Larson (THE ORIGINAL JIMMY OLSEN!!!!), Richard Donner (director of the Christopher Reeves Superman), and Geoff Johns (chief creative officer at DC Comics), means bringing our audience a rare concentration of expertise and celebrity. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare go see the new Superman movie without hearing what the four of them have to say!

I couldn’t even wait ’til the program to grill Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero, about his favorite Superman and how he first learned about our favorite superhero’s Jewish roots.

What first drew you to Superman?
Two things: I was intrigued by why we as Americans embrace the heroes we do, and decided one way to explore that would be to look at our longest-lasting hero of the last century, Superman. The other reason was I wanted to be ten years old again, and revisiting my childhood pal let me feel like I was.

What is your favorite Superman plot?
I loved the 1990s series where he fought his most dastardly enemy ever (Doomsday), died in the arms of his beloved (Lois), and, after the requisite funeral and mourning, came back to life. Those stories reminded me that what comic book creators take away, they can give back, and they reminded the world why it loved (and needed) Superman.

How did you become aware of Superman’s Jewish roots?
Partly by reading all the good works on the Man of Steel’s ethnicity that came before, partly by reading Superman creator Jerry Siegel’s unpublished memoir, which no one other than his family and lawyers had seen before. Continue reading

Taking a Ride

bike-sign-1The month of May marks annual National Bike Month, during which people in cities all over the country are encouraged to ride more, learn about bike safety and mechanics, and commute to work. I myself have been a bike commuter for almost twenty years, first when I lived in Seattle, riding through rain, sleet, and hail to get to my high school teaching job, and now climbing through a mountain pass to get from my home in Santa Monica to my job at the Skirball.

I am often asked why I ride my bike to work (and if I’ve totally lost my mind or have a death wish), especially in the last few years during the massive construction project along the 405, which has made the 405 corridor bumpier and more haphazard (and hazardous).

arriving-at-skirbsFor me, riding my bike has always been a mix of personal pleasure and public service. I enjoy the exercise of it, the hour or so of vigorous riding to begin my day. But I also see it as a way to honor that very core Jewish value which we at the Skirball try to impart through our programs and exhibitions: that of taking care of the earth and each other. I feel, perhaps naively, that I’m doing something (albeit a small something) for our planet: a bit less CO2 emitted from a tailpipe, a few more friendly exhales in the direction of the plants along the road, a bit less stress put out into the world.

I start out each early-morning ride pedaling through the dark in Santa Monica with a red light on the back of my bike and a headlamp strung up around my helmet. Continue reading

Thanks for the Memories, Allan Sherman!

It was with a young girl’s excitement that I learned the Skirball would be presenting The Hits, the Life, and the Lost Lyrics of Allan Sherman, a conversation between author Mark Cohen and journalist/film producer Tom Teicholz about the legacy of song parodist and comedian Allan Sherman. Mark Cohen has written the first biography of Allan Sherman and I am excited to learn more about this voice that had such an impact on my childhood. I still remember listening to Allan Sherman’s songs when they were released. We had a record player in the room I shared with my sister, and that’s where we listened to his records. I don’t remember how many albums we had, but we played the songs over and over and laughed ourselves silly—including my parents. Of course, the song I remember most is from the homesick kid at sleepaway camp: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Camp Granada …”

Listen to Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” here:

We really appreciated this humor for at least two reasons: First, I went away to a girl scout camp and was so homesick and unhappy, Continue reading