This week, our guest posts will be from some of the fantastic specialist story centres which can now be found around the UK. The first post is by Sophie Hiscock of The Story Museum in Oxford. With all its literary connections and connotations, Oxford makes the ideal place for such a centre; and because The Story Museum is still under development, it is a particularly interesting and exciting place to visit, as there is almost always something new to look at and enjoy.
There can’t be many other people in the world who can say that they can reach their office by going through the wardrobe into Narnia but then The Story Museum is no ordinary place to work! We are a Museum-in-the-making, offering the public and school groups a changing programme of story-themed exhibitions, installations and events in our semi-developed building. Our ambition is to create not just a place for stories but a home for stories – somewhere that looks after stories, hunting out the unusual ones, offering new ways to engage with old favourites and celebrating both the importance that stories play in all our lives and just as importantly the sheer joy of stories.
This year our major exhibition is themed around animals in stories. We’re encouraging visitors to travel an immersive story trail where they can enter a jungle clearing, a rubbish dump, a vole hole and a prison cell, not to mention a dog kennel, a stable and yes… a wardrobe! From fantastic foxes to clever cockroaches, wise bears to cats skilled in martial arts, our animal safari gives you an opportunity to use all five senses to experience favourite stories in books, films and storytelling.
There is no better sound in the world than that of families exploring and playing in our exhibition spaces together or the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that we hear in our office when a party of school children step into Narnia for the first time. For me, that gets to the heart of what The Story Museum is all about. By providing great ways to engage with great stories we encourage people to bring the world of the imagination to life. Visitor comments sum it up most eloquently ‘It’s like stepping inside my own head’, ‘The Story Museum is the most un-Museum ever’, ‘Epic, epic, epic!’.
As a child I used to spend many hours re-enacting in the garden the stories that I so voraciously read. I wasn’t aware of the benefits to my spoken and written language skills, my ability to empathise and think through different scenarios, I was just busy having a great time playing and making an emotional connection with the stories that I encountered. Yet for some children this emotional connection with stories is not a matter of instinct and intuition and as adults many of us have forgotten how to bring alive this sense of the imagination, too pressed by the mundane tasks of everyday life. So The Story Museum provides the setting to remind us all that stories are around us all the time and we can choose to step into them whenever we choose.
And of course we supplement our immersive story experiences with lots of other great story content including author events, workshops, courses and lots, lots more for all ages. Since we opened in April 2014 more than 60,000 people have visited and experienced that sense of stepping into their own imagination and we’re actively using their feedback to inform the plans for our ongoing building development. We want The Story Museum to be not just a place for story but an encouragement to us all to step into our own story places on a regular basis because as the Dodo says in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ‘The best way to explain it, is to do it!’
If you would like to plan a visit to The Story Museum or find out more about their programme of activities and events have a look at their website http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.