YOUNG WORLD

Seven storeys for seven stories

A place where children's books are collected, illustrators' works displayed, stories spun, and tales told — a castle whose walls are pages and where kids rule.

ANITA ROY

DREAM COME TRUE: National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle, U.K.

DREAM COME TRUE: National Centre for Children's Books in Newcastle, U.K.  

For anyone who cares about children's books, August 19, 2005 was a red-letter day. Because on that day a dream came true.

Ten years ago, two women met in England and dreamt up a place. A place, they imagined, where children's books would be collected, where illustrators' works would be displayed, where stories would be spun, and tales would be told, a castle whose walls were pages and where kids were King. How much money did they invest to make this place a reality? Well, they weren't Queens or even Princesses themselves, so all they could manage was �10 each.

Ten years — and a lot of hard work later — the U.K.'s first and only National Centre for Children's Books was opened in Newcastle. The Centre is housed in an old converted warehouse, which has seven storeys — and it's called, naturally enough, Seven Stories!

The �20 originally invested by Mary Briggs (who is Seven Stories' Chief Executive) and Elisabeth Hammill, a bookseller, has grown to �6.5million and they have managed to collect and archive over a 1,00,000 children's books, manuscripts and illustrations. The collection includes an original Harry Potter manuscript and drawings donated by J.K. Rowling; early works from best selling author, Philip Pullman; the original artworks for Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; as well as original drawings by Jan Pienkowski, Quentin Blake, Jane Ray, Nick Sharratt, and a whole host of others.

One could say that Mary Briggs and Elisabeth Hammill can now "rest on their laurels". In ancient times, a laurel wreath was presented to someone who had achieved greatness in his or her particular field. In this case, Seven Stories, boasts not one, but two "Laureates" - the first Children's Laureate, Quentin Blake OBE, is one of its patrons, and the current Laureate, best selling author, Jacqueline Wilson, is also a patron and opened the centre, to cheers all round.

The old warehouse now includes exhibition galleries, a children's discovery centre, a caf�, a huge children's bookshop and even an "artist's attic" on the top floor where children can come and talk to their favourite authors and illustrators about their work — and even try their hand at writing, or illustrating.

The first exhibition is entitled "Incredible Journeys" which, according to the Centre "celebrates Britain's rich and diverse modern children's literature — literature that can take us on incredible journeys into imaginary lands and lives."

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "that belongs in a museum", meaning that it's fusty, out-dated, and a bit, well, dull. The way this particular Centre has been designed is anything but. Not only is it interactive, it's intended to be a creative space — for children who love to read, draw, write or listen, and for authors and artists whose lives are dedicated to making up stories, dreaming up new worlds, and delighting their audiences with tales of magic and adventure.

Apart from all these reasons to cheer, it's a wonderful sign that children's books are finally being taken seriously. Perhaps we can all dream about a similar centre here in India some day.

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