Chris Routh, member of the Executive Committee of the Federation, was lucky enough to be invited to the press preview of this new exhibition at Seven Stories in Newcastle.
It is probably no coincidence that the opening of the new exhibition at the National Centre for Children’s Books coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Michael Morpurgo has written about the First World War many times, but as visitors to Seven Stories will find, there is much more to discover in the fictional world of this prolific and much-loved author!
Michael’s love of the countryside and the natural world is suggested throughout the exhibition – from the sculpted trees embellished with his handwriting, to the textile hangings which evoke the sea surrounding Kensuke’s island.
Along the way, the home of Russ the sheepdog, from ‘It’s a Dog’s Life’, is recreated by a child-sized set with a button-activated farmyard soundtrack. Small children will love dressing up as one of the characters from the book or curling up in Russ’s basket. Together Michael and his wife Clare wrote ‘Where My Wellies Take Me’ based on Clare’s memories of childhood holidays in Devon. This inspired the scrapbook that will be handed out to visitors on arrival, which they can start to fill in during their visit and complete over the summer months. It was forty years ago that after moving to Devon, Michael and Clare set up Farms for City Children and it seems particularly fitting that Ouseburn city farm is located right next door to Seven Stories.
At the heart of this engaging exhibition are examples from Michael Morpurgo’s archive which was donated to Seven Stories in 2015. These range from the first page of the first story Michael wrote, to the back of a note book where he recorded his daily word count and a heavily annotated draft page from ‘Butterfly Lion’. The underlying message is that writing can be hard work and doesn’t always come easily – even for successful authors like Michael. A fascinating insight which should be reassuring to young writers, if not inspirational.
The artwork associated with Michael’s books is also quite rightly celebrated with a wonderful range of original illustrations to enjoy. The exhibition is full of other unexpected treasures, including a clapperboard from Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of ‘War Horse’, a stunning ‘horn’ from a real ‘unicorn of the sea’ (Narwhal) and one of Michael’s famous red jackets to try on.