Monday, February 20, 2012

Visit to 'Seven Stories' children's book museum


I spent last weekend in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with my parents. Dad grew up in the area, so I went there a lot when I was younger, and it's one of my favourite cities. We had decided we'd go and visit Seven Stories, a sort of museum/gallery/archive that celebrates children's books. They run some really interesting exhibitions (last time I was there it was about Roald Dahl & Quentin Blake, this time it was Jacqueline Wilson), as well as having a bookshop, reading area, and archive room where you can learn about book preservation.

We had decided to go on the 'adults tour', hoping to get some more inside information and learn more about the building and it's collection. The tour guide started by telling us a bit about the building, which is in an old factory with, you guessed it, seven stories, and how it was founded. Then we went upstairs to see the reading area on the top floor. It's a wide space in the loft of the building, where they can hold author readings, school group events, and a story time group.
Here's a staff member reading to some children

The loft is the kind of place I'd love to write stories in - it just feels like an exciting place, and has these amazing beams all across the ceiling.

Sorry this is a bit blurry!

Next we went down to look through the Jacqueline Wilson exhibition. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photos there, but it was very interesting to look at. I'm not sure how well Jacqueline Wilson is known outside the UK, but she's a very prolific writer of children's and young adult books, which tend to focus on young people in tough situations. There are stories about children in care, people whose parents have mental illnesses, people who are being bullied, people whose parents are divorcing... many stories that can be really inspiring to young people who might be experiencing something similar. I didn't realise quite how many of her books I'd read until I was looking at the mural on the floor at the start of the exhibition, which is made up of covers of her books overlapping.

There is a bit about where she grew up and how she started writing, then several sections focussing on some of her most popular books, with talking about the inspiration for that story, and other tidbits relating to its writing. There is also a small section about her illustrator, Nick Sharratt, whose work is synonymous with Jacqueline's stories.

Finally, we went to the archive room. Seven Stories owns a massive collection of children's books and manuscripts, most of which are housed in a separate building. As part of the tour, we got to hear from one of the archivists, who looks after the preservation of the books. She showed us a selection of Enid Blyton (another prolific British author) books, some of which were very old. There were also a couple of loose-leaf, typed manuscripts in boxes that we could look at, provided we were wearing gloves to protect the paper. This was my favourite part of the tour, and I find that sort of thing fascinating. Most exciting was that there was a hand written manuscript of one of Philip Pullman's books, and the archivist pointed out how there are little notes to himself all over it, saying things like "Need to change this!" which is reassuring that even very successful authors doubt their work. Again, we couldn't take photos of this part, which is a shame, but understandable - camera flashes can damage pages over time.

Overall it was a very interesting trip. I know I'll be keeping an eye on their website to see what other exhibitions are coming up. If you're interested in learning more, you can find their website here: Seven Stories homepage, and details of when the adult tours are here: Tour dates & details.

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