I think Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, may actually be one of my favourite places in the world. I spent a morning there exploring on a recent trip to Newcastle. There’s loads going on from story times, craft activities, exhibitions and special events and there’s even a bookshop and a café. Here are seven of the reasons why it’s such a great place.
The exhibitions I saw were fascinating and well-designed. There are fun, interactive activities for children as well as the chance to see fabulous original artwork and manuscripts. The three exhibitions were Enid Blyton, a Judith Kerr Retrospective and Picture books in Progress (showing how picture books are created) but they change throughout the year.
Tea time with a tiger
Judith Kerr wrote and illustrated many wonderful books including the Mog series and, one of my all-time favourites, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. The author donated her complete archive to the Centre in 2008. Besides looking at her original artwork, my favourite part of the Judith Kerr exhibition was seeing some small children busily feeding tins of ‘Tiger Food’ to a huge toy tiger. Oh and some other children looking at books with their Mum in a giant Mog cat basket.
I loved reading books by Enid Blyton, especially The Famous Five series, until my headteacher told me disapprovingly that the books weren’t very good and that I should read something else. So I was delighted to find an exhibition devoted to this popular writer. Apparently she wrote more than 700 books and she created them by typing with two fingers. She’s still one of the top twenty children’s authors most often borrowed from public libraries in this country – I reckon my headteacher was wrong.
The first floor of the building is dedicated to various free craft activities which children can join in with if they want to. The room is bright and airy and overlooks a small river. When I was there the kids were making some fabulous ‘Wanted’ posters including this one:
Seven Stories is in a wonderful restored Victorian grain warehouse half a mile from Newcastle city centre. The building is listed and original features such as cast iron pillars, exposed brickwork and wooden beams contrast beautifully with the artwork, books and funky modern furniture on each floor. I love the light-drenched, eye-shaped spiral staircase which sits at the front of the building and the whole place feels fresh, quirky and happy.
The location of Seven Stories was chosen deliberately. 24% of children and young people in the Northeast of England are living in poverty compared to a national average of 12%. Through school visits and outreach work Seven Stories has worked with tens of thousands of children to encourage them to enjoy reading and realise their potential. Even though I wish it wasn’t so far from where I live so that I could go there again, it’s great to see a place like this away from London.
The fact that it exists at all
Apparently in the 1990s there was nowhere in Britain which was dedicated to preserving the heritage of children’s literature. This meant that some important original work by children’s authors was being sold abroad. So in 1996 Elizabeth Hammill and Mary Briggs set up a charity to preserve and champion children’s literature in Britain and to found a national centre for children’s books. With support from authors, illustrators, publishers and many more, Seven Stories opened in 2005. Phew!
Family travel lowdown: Entrance to Seven Stories is free for under-4s, £6 for children age 4-16, £7 for adults and £19 for a family. Thank you to the NewcastleGateshead Initiative for arranging my visit.