Did you know that the Dark Ages could be found in the Ouseburn Valley? Were you aware that Deadly Dragons and Hairy Hooligans lurked in corridors and nestled in alcoves just waiting to surprise you? Would you have guessed that there was an entire dictionary of ‘Dragonese’ and that you, yes you, could add to it?
Well it’s all waiting to be discovered at Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, because the charming Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third (he of the Hairy Hooligans tribe) has come to town.
The new exhibition, ‘A Viking’s Guide to Deadly Dragons’, offers a fascinating insight, not just into the much-loved characters of author Cressida Cowell’s books, but into her writing – and the publishing – process.
If you are a small visitor to the centre then you can get stuck in and design your own Viking helmet, marvel at the costumed staff members who pass you on the stairs brandishing stuffed dragons and enjoy listening to some Viking story-telling. If, like me, you’re that bit bigger then it’s a chance to be really quite nosey about how the books that make it onto our children’s bookshelves actually get there.
Beautifully detailed preliminary sketches for Cowell’s books are framed alongside video interviews with the author as she talks about the remote Scottish island she lived on as a child and that provided her with the inspiration for the wild and bleak landscapes her heroes live in.
Upstairs, the exhibition ‘A Squash and a Squeeze: Sharing Stories with Julia Donaldson’, reveals that wonderful books like ‘The Gruffalo’ actually started life, not on some whizzy computer screen, but on the pages of an A4 exercise book like the ones you or I might have at home. Sketches for artwork by the brilliant illustrator Axel Scheffler go through a number of drafts before they’re approved and are subject to changes from ‘the powers that be’ in the publishing world and what is clear is just how much work goes on behind the scenes of creating a children’s book.
With one of the best bookshops around, helpful and friendly staff and a brilliant café overlooking the river, Seven Stories is a treasure trove of delights that’s just waiting to be explored. And don’t worry – Hiccup’s Dragon won’t bite. He’s called Toothless.
For more information on Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, go to: www.sevenstories.org.uk
by Katherine Wildman © 2012
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