Innovative Hub Showcases 100 Years of Children's Literature


What did the initial Gruffalo illustrations look like? What does Phillip Pullman write his books on? Who was the inspiration for George in the Famous Five books? What word game did Lewis Carroll invent? What’s in Valerie Bloom’s fan mail?

These are all questions that can be answered by visiting the innovative new digital exhibition website from Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books.

The website hosts hundreds of items including 360-degree tours of the Seven Stories galleries, interviews with top authors and illustrators, previously unseen archive materials such as first drafts, planning notes and initial illustrations for well-known books, as well as stories about the making of the books, and stories which have been inspired by the books.

Kris McKie, Head of Collection at Seven Stories, explains: “We believe that the stories in our Collection - both in the books and surrounding their creation - should be shared as widely as possible to support young people’s development, and encourage reading for pleasure, for all its lifelong benefits. The new site, developed with support from the Weston Cultural Fund, not only brings together treasures from our Collection in one place for the first time, but delivers 24/7 accessibility to more children than ever before in their classrooms, communities and homes.”

In their mission to improve accessibility to stories for all children, the Seven Stories team developed the online exhibition so that children could browse independently or enjoy the site with teachers, parents or carers, at home or school, to enhance learning, encourage reading for pleasure and inspire the next generation of authors and illustrators. This is something that has been at the heart of their exhibitions in the museum, and their school and community programming, for the last 16 years.

The Seven Stories Creative Associates have been working with Welbeck Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne to deliver creative writing workshops using items from their Collection as inspiration.

Welbeck Academy teacher Rachael Miley said: “Our pupils thoroughly enjoyed looking at the Collection; it made the authors real to them; they could see their writing process and how they make mistakes and have to edit their work. It allowed the children to understand and appreciate how everyday items such as a ball can inspire stories and to see the wonder in the world around them - helping them to build their imagination, which we're now seeing in their writing.

“Making this collection online means children are able to access it at home which is especially necessary during the pandemic and periods of potential isolation or lockdowns. Seeing the Collection helped our children to see how they too could become authors; inspiring them to keep their notebooks and drafts.”

Philippa Charles, Director at The Garfield Weston Foundation, who distribute the Weston Cultural Fund, said: “Our cultural sector is at the heart of our local communities providing not only entertainment but education and inspiration for many. Our Trustees were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown across the arts in response to Covid-19 and it was a privilege to hear what organisations had been doing to not only survive but also to reinvent the way they reach audiences.

“We all want and need our cultural sector to thrive and, if anything, our time away from the arts has shown just how important they are to us – bringing much needed pleasure and enrichment to our lives.”

Wendy Elliott, Interim CEO at Seven Stories, said: “It’s a great first step to fulfilling our digital aspirations and increasing accessibility and inclusivity across everything we do. A big thank you to the Weston Culture Fund for their generous support, and the authors, illustrators and publishers who have helped to make this happen. We look forward to adding further works to the digital exhibition, in partnership with established and emerging artists, as well co-curating items with local school pupils and communities, in the coming years.”

Seven Stories recently extended its free entry model permanently, after a successful trial period in February, to mirror its commitment to accessibility both inside and outside the Visitor Centre. The Centre has three free galleries, a coffee shop, children and young adults’ bookshop, café and programme of paid-for events. The Seven Stories team work with schools and communities to deliver extensive face-to-face and digital programming, including author and illustrator visits and residencies, across the UK.

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