Arts & Culture Family Featured Fara Illich September 14, 2009

Here’s the deal.  
My sister and her two young kids were visiting recently from Chicago, and I was trying to finish writing the last few chapters of my latest young adult novel, Vanished. It’s the story of a young Hohokam Indian girl named Aiyana.  I needed to visit the Heard Museum to do some last-minute research. Convincing my sister to go with me to the museum was a piece of cake; my little niece and nephew? Not so much. Not when a sparkling pool with umpteen water toys beckoned within footsteps of my backdoor.     
So how do you get two tween kids to visit a museum? Hint: Don’t use the word museum. Call it an adventure
And the Heard Museum is all that and so much more.  
Whenever I visit the Heard Museum, I feel like Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe stepping into a mysterious and wondrous land. The museum so effortlessly separates and yet connects all of the Native American cultures: Hohokam, Navajo, Pima, Gila, Hopi, Apache. When you stroll through each exhibit, it’s like reading the most beautiful of stories. I doubt there is a more comprehensive collection of Native American history anywhere. You learn about the richness of each culture, their histories, foods, crafts, clothes, even their legends.   
And the Hohokam exhibit, in particular, is fascinating. It displays the amazing history of Phoenix’s first residents along with theories as to how an entire culture simply vanished from the desert. How cool is it to be inches from the pottery made by someone’s hands 1,000 years ago? Or to look upon a braided belt worn around someone’s waist who worked the land where my house, conceivably, now sits?  
The hands-on Kids Exhibit at the Heard was a huge hit with my brood for obvious reasons, although I think my sister and I enjoyed it as much as my niece and nephew. At each exhibit, the voice of a young Native American child talks about his culture and then invites the child to bead a necklace, draw a picture, piece together a puzzle or simply just listen. I could have spent an entire day inside the Kids Exhibit. Easy. 
At the end of our visit, like the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae, we stopped at the Heard’s Café just outside the front door to the museum. Definitely worth the time. And the price. The staff was friendly; the food, delicious. It didn’t have the institutional feel of many cafeterias you find at museums. In fact, I’d make a special trip downtown for the iced tea and the blue corn tostada salad alone. 
Instead of nagging us with “when are we leaving?” my niece and nephew have already asked (twice), “when are we going back?” 
Answer: As soon as possible. And next time we’ll allow more time to shop at the Museum Gift Store.