A children’s literature tour of the UK – Part 2

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Yesterday we started our children’s literature tour of the UK in Scotland and made our way as far south as Shakespeare’s home, Stratford upon Avon. Today our literary journey through the UK continues with us first hopping across to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

The Searcher - a statue in Belfast of CS Lewis and the wardrobe leading to Narnia

CS Lewis was born in Belfast and there are several sites we’ll visit to learn about his childhood and inspirations for the Narnia stories. Belmont Tower is a good starting place with its exhibition about the author, but for a full itinerary, take a look at this document from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and this info about a possible bus tour we could take. Thanks to Caroline at Learning Parade for helping me with this part of our tour.

Now, back to England and on to the city of dreaming spires, Oxford.

Oxford. Photo: Jim Linwood

Oxford has just launched a bid to become UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014, which is when The Story Museum is due to open. The team behind this new centre for stories is already very active, hosting a variety of events for families and children in locations throughout Oxford until their permanent home opens. Alice’s Day, “an annual day of frabjous family fun” which turns Oxford into Wonderland is one of their biggest annual events, and is next due to take place on 9th July 2011

Just before we reach the capital you might choose to visit the (permanent) Wind in the Willows Exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames or the (temporary) exhibition “Escape To Wonderland: A History of Children’s Book Illustration exhibition” at The Lightbox in Woking. There’s also the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury.

The BFG's Sandal, Great Missenden. Photo: alecea

For even more fun with Miss Honey and chocolate in the village where Roald Dahl lived for 30 years we’ll spend some time at The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden. Aren’t you curious to see what you can have in the cafe there? A whizzpopper? Or a baked potato with snozzcumber filling?

Once we’re in London there’s a lot to see and do! Discover – The story making centre is a good place to start. A “hands-on centre focusing exclusively on creativity through projects, exhibits and activities exploring words, language and imagination”, Discover is an immensely fun place to spend some time as a family. On October 2nd its newest exhibition opens: Green Drops and Moonsquirters – The UTTERLY imaginative world of Lauren Child.

Sit in Charlie and Lola's kitchen when you visit Discover's new exhibtion!

Next on our itinerary is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is currently hosting a small exhibition about the illustrator Walter Crane – “A Revolution in Nursery Picture Books”. Earlier this year there were three other exhibition of special interest for kidlit lovers – ‘We are all mad here’: Alice in popular culture, A Fairyland of Flowers: Beatrix Potter and Cicely Mary Barker and Capturing the Imagination: British Fairy-tale Illustrations 1860-1940, so whilst the V&A isn’t dedicated to children’s literature it’s always worth checking in case there’s an exhibition on. The V&A is also host to several Children’s Literature Collections. Whilst these are not on public display, they are available to all by appointment.

The British Library and the Museum of Childhood are also worth checking for temporary exhibitions on children’s literature and illustration.

Photo: RachelH_

London is well served with independent children’s bookshops. Tales On Moon Lane, Herne Hill, Ripping Yarns, Highgate (specialising in secondhand children’s books), Children’s Bookshop, Muswell Hill, The Golden Treasury, Wandsworth, The Lion and Unicorn Bookshop, Richmond and Victoria Park Books are all lovely places to find new treats.

A visit to the Illustration Cupboard, an art gallery representing contemporary book illustrators from around the world, will wrap up our tour. Currently original artwork from Graham Oakley’s Church Mice is on display and available for purchase – I hope you’ve not spent all your money already on books!

I’ve deliberately left out of this tour visiting places in the UK that feature in children’s literature but where there is no sort of centre/museum/gallery to visit. Storybook England is a really lovely site dedicated to exploring the English countryside through locations which feature in children’s literature. I can’t recommend it enough and it comes with a teacher’s pack and downloadable map. Get London Reading is a neat, interactive website you could use to plan your own trip around sites in London which appear in literature. Most books featured are for grownups, but some children’s books also feature.

A view from the Old Man of Coniston, aka Kanchenjunga in Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome. Photo: markc123

In case you can’t join me on this tour straight away, and you want to plan a future visit, why not consider timing your tour to coincide with one of the children’s literature festivals that take place in the UK?

Starting on Friday there’s The Bath Festival of Children’s Literature . October sees The Crystal Palace Children’s Book Festival. The Northern Children’s Book Festival takes places in November as does the Children’s Literature Festival in Exeter.

The Children’s Bookshow isn’t a festival in the traditional sense, but rather an organisation that arranges an annual tour of children’s authors and illustrators. The tour takes place in the autumn and coincides with Children’s Book Week and there are various shows you could enjoy with performances by Bruce Ingman, Quentin Blake and Gunilla Bergstrom amongst others this year.

February sees the perfect cure to any winter blues with the Imagine festival of children’s literature at the Southbank Centre in London. Discover runs a children’s literature festival in March each year, called The Big Write. Anthony Browne, Bruce Ingman, Thomas Docherty and Eileen Browne are already confirmed for the 2011 festival.

Late May/early June is when Young Readers Birmingham takes place. The biennial Manchester Children’s Book Festival is next due to take place in July 2012. Of course, many other book festivals also feature children’s books (such as the Edinburgh Book Festival in August), but the ones I’ve mentioned here are those which focus on kidlit.

Here’s the link to the google map I’ve created for this tour – If you know of any other sites in the UK that would be great to include in our tour please let me know and I’ll add them.

Photo: Jan Michellardi

Phew! What an adventure 🙂 If I were to come on tour in your country what children’s literature sites should I visit? Maybe next we could all go on a world tour?..

In the meantime, 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!

20 Responses

  1. Beckicklesie

    Totally and completely magical!

    I would love to visit the Roald Dahl Museum. I think I’ll have to take my little lad when he gets a bit older.

    Can’t wait to see the world tour 😉

    Becca x

  2. Choxbox

    What a delightful idea Zoe!

    The Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden is FUN! And yes the cafe has the most amazing snazzburgers and fizzwhirlers and such!

  3. Zoe

    Thanks everyone for your nice comments. I had so much fun writing this tour! There are quite a few places on it I’ve yet to visit so do let me know when you’ll be over and we can go together 🙂

  4. Tasha

    This is such an awesome post… so many amazing places to visit, and so many in London that I haven’t been to yet – shameful, but exciting! I’d love to go to the Dahl Museum and we plan to visit the Lauren Child exhibit for Milo’s 2nd birthday. I think he’ll like it!

    • Zoe

      Hi Natasha,
      Yes, I’m trying to persuade my husband that I want to go to the Lauren Child exhibition for my birthday (a somewhat larger number than Milo’s!) – it would be quite a day trip for us from where we are, but I think we’d all have so much fun, and that’s what birthdays are about, isn’t it! If you’ve any more suggestions as to what to add to the tour I’d love to hear about them.

  5. Andi

    Reading this makes me want to hop on an airplaine and take the tour in person! Sadly, I do not know of any children’s literature festivals where I currently live, although Anne of Green Gables and L.M. Montgomery are certainly celebrated all summer long on nearby Prince Edward Island, and for oral storytelling the Toronto Storytellers Festival in Ontario, Canada is not to be missed! (Fun for children and adults alike!) Have you heard of the book “Where the Heather Grows?” A friend loaned it to me, I haven’t started it yet but it is the story of a family who travels around visiting the settings of all of their favourite books.

  6. Jennifer@5 Minutes for Books

    This is awesome. My cousin lives near London, and we want to visit. This seals it!

    New York City has some wonderful children’s bookstores, like Books of Wonder and The Strand (not a children’s bookstore, but a great department).

    The Eric Carle museum is just over the Massachusetts/Connecticut border and we’ve been there too.

  7. Zoe

    Hi Andi,
    Thanks for the tips about your part of Canada. Can you let me have the author’s name of Where the Heather Grows?

    Hi Jennifer,
    Yes, the Carle is very near the top of my kidlit tourist destinations! Thanks for the tips re NY.I look forward to adding them to a future world tour 🙂

  8. Willow

    Another fabulous tour–if only I could make plans for Alice’s Day in Oxford next July. I love the map. Amazing how you click on one place and up pop photos–I was taking a look at Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top–lovely! And thanks for all the photos you posted–they add so much.

  9. Andi

    Hi Zoe – I picked up the book to read last night and realized I had quoted the title incorrectly (sorry!) It is “How the Heather Looks: A Joyous journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books” by Joan Bodger.

    • Zoe

      Thanks Andi for getting back to me with the details – I’ve added it to my amazon wish list as it does sound very interesting. When you’ve read it please do let me know what you thought of it – it would be great to hear your thoughts on it.

  10. Anamaria Anderson

    We’re coming! The whole family is flying to London on December 29 (we just bought the tickets yesterday). It’ll be the kids’ first trip overseas, and I couldn’t be more excited (for me and for them). As you can see the very first thing I’ve done to start planning is come back and check this post–thank you! Would love to meet up; we’ll be in London til 10 January.

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