We're Off to See the Wizard



Follow the yellow brick road and step into the pages of a new 1,500 square- foot interactive exhibit based on the book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," with the artwork of W.W. Denslow.

The exhibit is perfect for children age 2 to 12. Visitors will feel like they're walking through a storybook as they learn about science, art and history against the backdrop of the first American fairy tale.

Bill McElhone, Kalamazoo Valley Museum director, said he is excited about introducing movie fans of Wizard of Oz to the original story by L. Frank Baum. "There are many details from the book that did not make it to the big screen version of the story," McElhone said. "Many visitors will be surprised by some of the differences."

In 1900, Baum's book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" caused a national sensation that lead to 13 sequels over the next 20 years. This timeless tale has been brought to life in the form of this colorful, traveling exhibit -- a larger than life pop-up book that will dazzle the eyes and stimulate the mind, while instilling a love of reading and storytelling.

The exhibit adventure begins on a farm that features Dorothy's house. Using dress-up and role-playing props, children will discover life on a farm in 1900 while completing chores like collecting and counting eggs; tending and harvesting corn; and assembling a puzzle of farm animals and their sounds. A peek around the next corner reveals an encounter with tornadoes where the science of a vortex comes alive. Next, blow through to the Land of Munchkins with its message of tolerance for all people. Play dress up with Munchkin clothes in a Munchkin house and use hand puppets to embrace differences among people. The fun continues as visitors meet the Tin Woodman and learn about the heart with beating, beeping and flashing machines.

Other hands-on activities involve helping to put the scarecrow together and letting him know that everybody is smart in his or her own way. In the forest, the cowardly Lion will help children find their courage as they crawl through a dark cave. Then, team up with others and help solve the task of building the "road of yellow brick" to Emerald City where the stage awaits the next entertainer. Here, children may test their acting skills using all the props and costumes as they perform scenes from the book.

Visitors keep moving through the story, bracing for The Wicked Witch of the West. Children may help finish building the witch's castle and see what it's like to be a Winged Monkey.

The exhibit incorporates storytelling with art, science, math and history, stimulating learning through creativity, play, and exploration. The character-building exhibit asks children and their accompanying adults to ponder and discuss questions. In addition, there is a full complement of educational programs that celebrate integrated learning across the curriculum both for the public and schools.

Baum's great grandson Robert Baum said he thinks the exhibit is a fitting expansion of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz story because L. Frank Baum was imaginative and creative throughout his entire life. Robert Baum explained, "My great grandfather's work has a lasting and universal appeal today because his imagination was never limited as a child. As he grew up no one admonished him for using his imagination. He used it in playing with his siblings and in the many endeavors he explored in life. His imagination allowed him to capture children's visions of everyday things and turn them into fanciful places and characters without a lot of detail or description. The action in his stories moved at a child's pace and allowed the reader to fill in details themselves. That is why Oz and his other stories are still fresh. You, the reader, are a part of the story, filling in details and becoming a part of the adventure and having fun with old friends."

The exhibition was produced and developed by Great Explorations Children's Museum of St. Petersburg, Florida; designed and fabricated by Bruce Barry's Wacky World Studios of Oldsmar, Florida; with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The exhibition has been endorsed by The International Wizard of Oz Club and The L. Frank Baum Family Trust, produced with assistance from scholars, collectors and enthusiasts who advised on its development.

Explore this creative presentation of an iconic story on loan to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum through September 5, 2011. Admission is free.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and is governed by its Board of Trustees.