The Story Museum, Oxford Literary Festival

Emily Gravett at the Oxford Literature Festival, The Story Museum, Oxford 02/04/2016

I’d wanted to visit the Story Museum in Oxford for some time, so it was a perfect opportunity to do so during the Oxford Literary Festival when Emily Gravett would be talking about her new book ‘Tidy’! Down a side street in central Oxford, the Story Museum awaits full of inspiring exhibits to ‘celebrate stories in all forms’. The Museum has occupied the current building since 2009 and is undergoing transformation on a daily basis, with fundraising in progress to ensure it reaches its full potential.

I loved it! From the brilliant Alicein Wonderland inspired playing card sculpture to the giant bedtime story bed, it evoked storytelling magic and you can absolutely see how, with further investment, it will become a beacon of celebration and exploration of the power behind stories. The ‘Animal: A Safari through stories’ exhibition looks at animals in stories asking what these tell about ourselves and the natural world. Interactive and immersive spaces bring this to life and some of my favourite animal stories were used as inspiration, including Watership Down, Richard Adams, Varjak Paw, S F Said and The Last Wild, Piers Torday. There was also an opportunity to watch some specially commissioned interviews with celebrated authors such as Michael Morpurgo and Philip Pullman talk about their portrayal of animals in stories. All in all a thoroughly fascinating and fun exhibition.

At the Museum you can also explore bedtime stories and lullabies, visit Narnia through the wardrobe, listen to how Anansi the spider tricks the other animals and go to a tea party in Wonderland. But my favourite room was the Changing Room dedicated to inventing your own story idea, complete with a huge rail of costumes. A word bank enables you to arrange on a board your own idea for a story, change into a suitable costume, then sit on the Talking Throne and your ‘story’ is announced in royal fashion by the throne itself! Children will love this – mine certainly did (even the almost 13 year old had a go!). I would happily install one of these in my home – although there’d be arguments about whose turn it was next…

Luckily the pull of Emily Gravett ensured we left the Changing Room just in time to listen to the author talk about her background and wonderful books she has written and illustrated. Emily was a great speaker, and immediately had the many children (and adults) listening to her every word. She explained she had always, always loved drawing and even believed her pictures were magic (something involving a drawing of a clock that actually tick-tocked…!). It wasn’t until Emily had her own child, that she realised how much she loved picture books (and how helpful they were in keeping her baby from crying!) and set about drawing and writing her own. Emily read us her gorgeous new picture book ‘Tidy’, a brilliant story about a badger called Pete, who can’t stop tidying up the forest but soon learns that sometimes, being tidy doesn’t matter. We then played a game involving guessing what Emily was drawing in order to win points – this proved chaotic but fun and of course, her drawing was fantastic; I wish we’d seen more of it! Finally, questions from the audience prompted further insights into Emily’s background and inspiration for her books. Emily encouraged budding artists and illustrators to keep drawing, especially what they see, so that these images can become locked in memory to inspire future artwork. All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon and hear from one of a celebrated award winning author and illustrator.

The Story Museum is well worth a visit and with regular events throughout the week from storytelling to quiz nights, it’s a great place to share a love of stories with your children. I will definitely be visiting again!

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