Seven Stories is the UK’s “National Centre for Children’s Books” and has as its mission to save, share and celebrate Britain’s rich literary heritage for children.
It is part archive, part exhibition space, part playground, and it all adds up to something very special indeed.
Today it is celebrating its 10th birthday, and last weekend I was lucky enough to spend two days there revelling in its delights. I cannot recommend it highly enough; from its engaging exhibitions (fascinating for all; the littlest of children to the greyest haired grown-ups), to its opportunities to play and be inspired by the best of children’s books and book illustration (whether through art and craft activities, role play or dressing up), via its tremendous bookshop and lovely location, Seven Stories is the ultimate destination for anyone in the UK if you want to feed your imagination with the very best of words and pictures.
Located just outside the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Seven Stories is housed in a former grain and flour warehouse (yes, with seven storeys) with a tremendous riverside setting.
Seven Stories has three main exhibition spaces and the first one we headed off to explore was Painting with Rainbows, packed with original illustrations and opportunities to explore the stories by Michael Foreman.
Foreman’s artwork when seen in real life simply sings off the page. Even though I know his work well, I was still taken aback by the vibrancy of his colours. It was such a treat to see some of my favourite illustrations of his up close and personal.
Lots of opportunity for play inspired by the illustrations on display are included throughout all the exhibitions, whether it’s playing at rock pooling alongside reading Foreman’s One World, or hiding under a replica Andersen shelter with a copy of War Boy.
Multiple copies of books and lots of seating space abound so there’s every opportunity for curling up with a good book either on your own or with a child or two in your lap!
Next up was Rhyme around the World, showcasing the artwork from the stunning poetry anthology Over the Hills and Far Away – A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes from Around the World alongside much of the original artwork from the classic poetry anthology Lavender’s Blue compiled by Kathleen Lines, illustrated by Harold Jones.
A third exhibition space explored the different illustrators who have worked on Paddington Bear over the more than 50 years that Michael Bond has been telling the marmalade loving bear’s stories, but it was the attic space which most excited my children.
Huge cut-out illustrations by Jim Kay of Diagon Alley lined one long wall in this brilliant performance space. The images are taken from the new fully illustrated, non-abridged version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which will be published in October.
There were also plenty of Hogwarts school uniforms to dress up in and this simplest of activities really captured my kids’ imagination.
The attic is used for live storytelling and theatre productions, all free as part of your entry ticket. The two shows we saw whilst there, including one inspired by Chris Haughton’s Shh! We Have a Plan were excellent. There’s also an ongoing programme of author and illustrator visits throughout the year – in the next few weeks Jonny Duddle, Derek Landy, Sarah Crossan and Patrick Ness are amongst those you can go and hear.
WHEN (not if, but when) you make your visit to Seven Stories pack your back (and wallet) in such a way that you can make the most of their fabulous bookshop, which is especially strong on picture books.
There were many more lovely details that made Seven Stories special, from the design of the rubbish bins, to the mural on the cafe wall and more.
In a time when libraries are being closed and museum and arts funding is under constant threat it is a special joy to see Seven Stories full of life and energy. It’s a gem of a museum and family-friendly space, with imaginative curation and design, thoughtful and engaging staff eager to talk about stories and the sort of richness within its wall that will inspire long after you’ve left.
Here’s to you, Seven Stories! Wishing you a very happy 10th birthday, and looking forward to the next 10 years of exciting exhibitions and events!