A children’s literature tour of the UK – Part 1

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After writing my last post all about Hansel and Gretel I started compiling a list of the various museums and centres for children’s literature around the world. The part of the world I know best is the UK and then I got excited with the idea of a tour around the UK for lovers of children’s literature and illustration. There’s quite an industry dedicated to literary tours (here’s a selection of “the best modern literary book tours”), but apart from one or two focussing on Harry Potter, I couldn’t find one dedicated to children’s books and so this post was born.

Pack your suitcases (leaving plenty of space for all those books you’ll want to buy on the way) and join me as we tour some of the best museums, centres, galleries and bookshops in the UK for children’s literature…

Starting in Scotland let’s head first for The Scottish Storytelling Centre, before making our way to The Children’s Bookshop (part of The Edinburgh Bookshop) where in addition to a fabulous range of children’s books there’s a selection of original children’s illustrations available for purchase. We’ll definitely pick up a copy of Reading Round Edinburgh: A Guide to Children’s Books of the City whilst we’re here.

After a few days exploring, perhaps visiting the National Gallery of Scotland, where there are occasionally exhibitions dedicated to children’s literature and illustration (like the one this summer – Writing and Illustrating for Children – James Mayhew and Catherine Rayner) we’ll head north to Kirriemuir, the small town in Angus where JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan was born.

Statue of Peter Pan in Kirriemuir. Photo: Chuck Nhorus

J M Barrie’s Birthplace is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. Important memorabilia, including early theatrical costumes used in the production of Peter Pan, and original manuscripts are on display and children can dress up as characters from Peter Pan, even getting the opportunity to “fly”. .

From Kirriemuir we’ll head south, staying a little longer in Scotland, to Wigtown. Wigtown is officially Scotland’s National Book Town and there are lots of delights to be had here. We’ll definitely spend some time at The Box of Frogs, a bookshop specialising in secondhand children’s books. The Wigtown Book Festival starts this Friday and there is an amazing line-up of children’s authors and illustrators attending, including Polly Dunbar, Debi Gliori and Mairi Hedderwick.

Other places to visit in Scotland include The Main Street Trading Company in the Scottish Borders village of St Boswells. The Main Street Trading Company was name Children’s Independent Bookseller of the Year at The Bookseller Industry Awards 2010. They sell fantastic coffee and cake too. Indeed, as none other than Neil Gaiman says, it’s a “dream bookshop”.

Alnwick Castle. Photo: Jim Donnelly

Leaving lovely Scotland behind, we’ll head first for a day of magic at Alnwick Castle, which starred as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. Whilst not dedicated to Harry Potter, there’s plenty of Hogwarts-related fun to get up to here. Then we’ll move further down the coast to perhaps the star in the crown when it comes to places dedicated to children’s literature in the UK – Seven Stories, in Newcastle.

Seven Stories is the only exhibition space in the UK dedicated to the celebration of British children’s literature. A highlight of our visit will be the new exhibition of John Burningham’s illustrations which opened just last week. There’s a very active programme of activities for children and families at Seven Stories – we’re bound to have a really fun day here!

Playing at Seven Stories

We’ll now cross the Pennines and visit the Lake District, first of all spending some time at The World of Beatrix Potter. There’ll be a chance to meet Peter Rabbit and visit Mrs Tiggy-winkle. If the weather is good we’ll walk to Hill Top, Beatix Potter’s former home, now owned by the National Trust.

There’s a month left of the Randolph Caldecott exhibition at Grosvenor Museum in Chester, but if you don’t make it in time we’ll head straight on to MythStories in Wem, Shropshire, a museum of myth and fable with a focus on storytelling. A trip to MythStories would work well paired up with an afternoon spent in The Stories and Imagination Gallery Museum of Childhood, Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, where budding storytellers can create their own characters, play with puppets and walk through outer space!

Photo: Sarah and Iain

No book lover’s tour of the UK should miss out Hay on Wye, a book town like no other with secondhand and antiquarian bookshops on almost every corner. The Children’s Bookshop not surprisingly is packed with children’s books. In fact they have over twenty thousand books in stock – you’re bound to find a gem to take home.

If you join me on the tour in November, December or January we’ll take a trip to the theatre in Stratford Upon Avon. None other than the Royal Shakespeare Company are putting on a brand new musical version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. What do you think Mrs Trunchbull will sound like in song?

With no doubt the rather nicer sound of Miss Honey in your ears I’ll leave you catching your breath – I’ll be back here tomorrow to continue our children’s literature tour around the UK, taking us further south, eventually ending up in the capital. I hope you’ll be joining us! UPDATE: Here’s the link straight to part 2 of the tour.

On another topic entirely, if you’d like to take part in my picture book swap – Perfect Picture Books by Post – please click here to find out everything you’ll need to know to join in!

16 Responses

  1. Willow

    What a fun trip–I wish I were really going. I would want to linger at the castle used for Hogwarts and the Beatrix Potter countryside. This was like a lovely mini-vacation!

  2. Zoe

    Thanks Willow, Beckicklesie and Choxbox

    I think my biggest problem with this tour would be trying not to buy enough books to stock my own bookshop – I know all these places that we’d visit will have great selections of kids’ books. I think it’s definitely a case of bringing a spare suitcase or large rucksack just for books!

  3. saara (UmmahReads)


    What utter delight it would be to spend days, weeks even, exploring these sites!

    While I can happily say that I’ve read books by many of the authors you mentioned, sadly I don’t live in the UK so visiting these sites are out of the question for me.

    Nevertheless I’ll keep them in mind for a time when I have the opportunity. You just never know when it’ll come knocking! 🙂


  4. Gloria Reading


    I teach in the School of Education at the university identified above. One of my assignments is teaching children’s literature to pre-service teachers.

    Combined with that, on the morning of April 10th, I was catapulted into Act Three of my life when my husband – a man I loved deeply – transitioned to his next life through what we on earth call “death.”

    To cut through the detail, I MUST do something this summer for my mental, emotional, spiritual well-being.

    Combining my professional life with my personal need to “go far away” for a respite, I began a google search for education conferences or something pertinent available in England. Visiting London and the countryside has literally been a dream of mine since I was 11 years old. I’ve vowed that this is “my moment in time” to realize this dream.

    I’d welcome ANY ADVICE for traveling for from spot to spot. I doubt I can do all of the places you’ve identified. I thought I would select 6 or 8.

    I have absolutely NO IDEA how to negotiate travel and lodging from place to place. Train? Bus? Car for hire? I just don’t know.

    At this point, this is a big dream plan with no detail. I’d welcome ANY advice as to how to find lodging and arrange travel to the towns holding such wonderful history of children’s authors.

    Writing on this blog is a simple shot in the dark. Thanks for any advice that anybody can give me.

    Gloria Reading
    Associate Professor
    Grieving Wife

  5. Carol Szabo

    Is the literary tour of the UK an organized tour or is it a suggestion for individuals? If it IS organized, how do I get details?

    • Zoe

      Hi carol, this isn’t an organised tour, just a list of suggested places to include in such a tour.

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