Step Inside the World of Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffler
For fans of Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffler's popular tales like the Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Stick Man, there is now an exciting exhibition currently open in Manchester. I brought my littlest along to see if the exhibition promised to be as magical as the stories themselves.
Is there room on the broom for a five year old
I have three children, and each child has spent several years of their young lives immersed in the stories of Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo, which is by far the most popular tale, was the favourite of my eldest when he was little; along with the fantastic Room on the Broom (he loved the dragon). When my daughter came along, she was a huge fan of Monkey Puzzle and Superworm. Although both of these have now grown out of picture books, my youngest currently loves nothing better than a good tale, and although she is obsessed with princesses, I'm happy to say that she too has a couple of favourite Julia Donaldson stories – The Gruffalo, and Zog.
As the new exhibition, A World Inside a Book: Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures has arrived at Manchester's Z-arts (located in Hulme), I thought it was high time I took some quality time out with my five year old, so I brought her along to see what it was all about.
The first thing I would say is that although the exhibition takes roughly an hour to visit, there's more to do, so I would put aside a good few hours to enjoy it. If you purchase tickets for the exhibition, your kids can also take part in lots of craft activities and the animations of the Julia Donaldson stories were showing in a mini-cinema on a loop too. We just hadn't left enough time and so had to rush through the crafts, which was such as shame, but I've promised my daughter that we will return. I'd definitely suggest taking part in the crafts before your time slot if you can, as my daughter really enjoyed wearing her new mouse ears in the exhibition.
So, onto the main exhibition. I hadn't really read anything about what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. I'm not even sure I should call it an exhibition; perhaps it could be described as an experience. It is recommended for children ages 0-8 years old, which I think is about right. Z-arts definitely caters for families, as it begins in a room with coat hooks, perfect for unloading parents of coats/scarves and other belongings before heading through to the main event. Then families are ushered into another small room, which is a replica of Charlie Cook's room, from Charlie Cook's Favourite Book. The detailing was beautiful, with everything from the large objects such as the cupboards and comfy armchair, to the smaller details like the pictures on the wall and the bookshelves.
The Story-Explorer introduced himself and invited the children to listen as he read the tale of Charlie Cook's Favourite Book. After finishing, he asked the children whether they believed you could visit other worlds through a book and then the fun began. A secret door opened, revealing the World of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, and the children scrambled to explore, whilst parents rushed to catch up. Up to this point, my daughter who can be quite shy about new experiences had sat by me instead of joining the rest of the children. But when the door opened, she was off too.
As we entered the next room, the narrator informed the children that they could touch everything they wanted to, nothing was off limits. He explained that when the clock chimed, it would be time to leave the world, but until then, they could explore to their heart's desire. For those with very little ones, it's good to know that it's a very compact, safe area. There's nowhere for the kids to get up to too much mischief, and it's perfect for little ones; inviting them to explore each area. It's full of thoughtful touches too. Stick man and his family were hiding in a tree house, the shops in The Smartest Giant in Town were beautifully detailed, the dragon from the Room in the Broom breathed smoke (my eldest would have loved it when he was tiny). Costumes are hung up throughout the area, such as witch hats, monkey and Gruffalo suits and cloaks. There were ships to explore, and rowing boats and whales to ride. Toddlers loved grabbing kitchen equipment and play food from the kitchen in A Squash and a Squeeze.
After the initial excitement wears off and you can lure your children back to your side, there's a quiz that older children can do, encouraging them to take notice of some of the more intricate details of the area. This is recommended for ages six and up, although my five year old happily joined in with some help. When the clock chimed to end the session, it was time to leave and everyone congregated to say goodbye. The Story- Explorer had a basket to collect any teddies or costumes and accessories that your little one have gotten attached to, so there's no need to feel too stressed if your child refuses to let go of Stick Man.
We ended our visit by watching a couple of animations on the small cinema room, although my daughter was quite disgruntled I had forgotten the popcorn.
What You Need to Know If You Are Visiting World Inside a Book: Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures
Although there is no train station or tram station close to Z-arts, it is walkable from Oxford Road train station or Deansgate, although perhaps not for little legs. The 250 and 256 which you can get from Piccadilly Gardens stop close by.
If you are driving, it's worth knowing there is no car park, but there is lots of on-street parking, which was free after 6pm on weekdays and all day on the weekend. During the day, it is metered parking, but I didn't find it too expensive.
There is a cafe at Z-arts if you want to grab something to eat during your visit. It's quite a limited menu, but perfect for little ones, and there are veggie/vegan offerings too. Although it says on the website they generally serve lunch from 12 until 2, I did see a sign at the cafe saying that they will feed young tummies at anytime and to just ask, which I thought was a lovely touch.
A World Inside a Book: Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures runs at Z-arts until February 2020. There are also relaxed and BSL interpreted showings available, and I love the fact that Z-arts offers the social story, so that you can prepare your children for their visit. You can find it here.
Tickets cost around £7 for children and adults, and £3 for babes in arms. The exhibition is proving extremely popular, and at time of writing is almost fully booked until mid July. So if you want to visit, make sure you book well in advance. Z-arts is also hosting birthday parties for between 20 and 30 kids, where your group can have the exhibition all to themselves, which I think is a fantastic idea.
It was my first visit to Z-arts, but it will definitely not be my last, as it's a lovely family space, with lots on for children. A visit to A World Inside a Book is a must for young families everywhere, even if your children are yet to have the joy of meeting with Julia Donaldson's wonderful characters. I have already promised my daughter we will return before the event ends, so that she can do it all over again.