Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

What happens after dark in the toy museum?

Posted on | June 17, 2011 | 10 Comments



Have you ever wondered what happens to all the exhibits in a museum once the public have gone home, the doors are locked and the lights turned off?

In the Museum of Childhood, where David Lucas’ latest book, Lost in the Toy Museum is set, wondrous things happen after dark; all the toys come to life.

But the question is, do they have much fun?

Night after night Bunting the old toy cat calls the register, counts the toys, makes them do their exercises and checks for signs of wear and tear before lecturing his fellow exhibits on the museum’s history.

Marble Floor at the Museum of Childhood. Photo: V&A Museum of Childhood

But toys are made for playing, for having fun!

And so one night Bunting’s audience breaks rank. The toys run away, enticing poor old perplexed Bunting into a game of Hot or Cold, which despite its perils, ends up being rather a pleasure. And although it seems likely that Bunting will never manage to relinquish all his sense of responsibility and need for order, night times in the museum are going to be a whole lot more adventurous and enjoyable from now on!

Continuing a grand tradition of stories about toys coming to life (here’s an Amazon listmania list of such stories, to say nothing of Toy Story) and inevitably calling to mind The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc and the subsequent film, you might ask what does Lost in the Toy Museum add to the mix?

First and foremost for me is the tremedous beauty of David Lucas’ illustrations, full of pattern and colour. Then there’s the story which is perfectly pitched for the youngest listeners to enjoy with its simple text and pared down plot (although I’ve also read it to classes of 6 and 7 year olds and they’ve loved it too, going off at break time to play their own games of Hot and Cold). I love the fact that the toys, even though they are museum exhibits, want to play and have fun – exactly what toys should be all about (unlike the nasty dolls in the exhibition in Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House who simply want to be admired), and I’m utterly entranced by the fact that all the characters which appear in Lost in the Toy Museum are based on real exhibits in the Museum of Childhood; I can’t wait to take my girls to the museum with this book and play our own game of hide and seek as we search for Bunting and his friends.

Having read Lost in the Toy Museum we were determined to find our own local toy museum to visit, and that’s how we ended up in Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery. A relatively small museum, they nevertheless had a lovely toy gallery, packed with toys that the kids could actually play with as well as examples behind glass cabinets to look at.

This money bank was one of my favourite toys…

…but the biggest hit with the girls was the puppet theatre.

So when we returned home we set about making our own puppet theatre. Using a cardboard box I cut out the proscenium and then M and J decorated it with buttons, glitter glue, feathers and rick-rack. We use Pritt Power glue – normally I wouldn’t mention such a detail but this glue was so very easy to use and so strong that I was really impressed! Will definitely be using it with the girls again.

Once complete with some gauzy curtains the girls dressed the stage, provided me with a chair and a ticket, and proceeded to entertain me and themselves for a long time performing plays with all different sorts of toys.


Whilst we made our theatre we listened to:

  • The Toy Museum by Laurie Berkner
  • The Marvelous Toy by The Wayfarers
  • My Brother Threw Up On My Stuffed Toy Bunny by Barry Louis Polisar

  • Other activities which could work well alongside reading Lost in the Toy Museum include:

  • Playing the hot and cold game yourself! Perhaps hide a new book somewhere in the house and once the kids have found it, enjoy reading it all together.
  • Make some “old toys” – there are some great ideas and resources on this page of the Museum of Childhood’s website.
  • Write and illustrate a story with your kid about your child’s favourite toy – this post from Thom haus might give you some inspiration.


  • If you’re looking for a great book about making puppets with your kids I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

    Do you have a favourite old toy? What’s he/she called? What secret life do you think he/she has led? Why not ask your Mum or Grandpa about their memories of their favourite toy?

    David Lucas will be appearing at the Just So Festival in August. His next book will be published in September – Christmas at the Toy Museum. You can find out more about David in my interview with him, and on his website.

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    Comments

    10 Responses to “What happens after dark in the toy museum?”

    1. Even in Australia
      June 17th, 2011 @ 1:51 am

      This sounds great and I love the theme of toys coming to life. It’s one I want to think more about. I didn’t know Laurie Berkner had a toy museum song!

      Here in NYC the New York Historical Society has as part of its permanent exhibit a toy exhibit. It’s amazing, but better-suited to adults or older children. The toys are definitely not for playing with!
      Even in Australia recently posted..All Things in Moderation

    2. Anamaria Anderson
      June 17th, 2011 @ 2:21 am

      Oh, this is right up my alley–toys AND museums! We missed the Museum of Childhood on our trip to London (there was so much to see and do) and will have to seek out a toy museum stateside. I do hope this book will be published in the US, too!
      Anamaria Anderson recently posted..Books that Cook- The Runaway Wok

    3. Zoe
      June 17th, 2011 @ 9:20 am

      Hi Anamaria, The Museum of Childhood is definitely on my list of must sees next time we make it to London. At the moment they have a lovely looking Judith Kerr exhibition on.

    4. Isil
      June 17th, 2011 @ 9:25 am

      Sounds like a beautiful book and I love the puppet theatre your daughters made.
      Isil recently posted..Playing with goop

    5. Zoe
      June 17th, 2011 @ 9:25 am

      Hi Even in Australia, Maybe you should suggest to them to include some hands on stuff? It made such a difference to our visit – they wanted to stay much longer than we had time for!

    6. Zoe
      June 17th, 2011 @ 9:26 am

      Thanks Isil – we were lucky to have such a nice red box to start with, but otherwise it was really straight forward to make.

    7. Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook
      June 17th, 2011 @ 11:26 am

      As usual, such a lovely lot of learning and creating goes on in your home, Zoe! Puppets and literature are such a perfect link, to me, and go hand-in-(er)-glove!
      Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook recently posted..Childrens Book Review- The Great Expedition

    8. Sandy Brehl
      June 17th, 2011 @ 1:42 pm

      I’ll be looking for this here “across the pond”. I was surprised to see the Amazonia list did not include two of my favorites:

      Toys Go Out, Being the Adventures of a Knowledgable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic (Emily Jenkins/Ill. by Paul O. Zelinsky)
      and the sequel- Toy Dance Party.
      The idea that those little toys each have strongly developed personalities is so-o-o appealing! Thanks for the note!

    9. Ashwini
      January 27th, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

      Hi, This sounds great and I love the theme of toys coming to life. It always surprise me how you find the music to go with each book, Do you own all these CDs or you search something to go with and buy. I appreciate your help…Ashwini

    10. Zoe
      January 27th, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

      Hi Ashwini, my first go-to for great child-friendly music is Zooglobble – http://www.zooglobble.com/ Otherwise it’s searching on Amazon or youtube, or yes, just from the CDs I own.

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