Seven Stories launch an online archive

What did the initial Gruffalo illustrations look like? What does Phillip Pullman write his books on? Who was the inspiration for George in the Famous Five books? What word game did Lewis Carroll invent? What’s in Valerie Bloom’s fan mail?

These are all questions that can be answered by visiting the innovative new digital exhibition website from Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books.

The website hosts hundreds of items including 360-degree tours of the Seven Stories galleries, interviews with top authors and illustrators, previously unseen archive materials such as first drafts, planning notes and initial illustrations for well-known books, as well as stories about the making of the books, and stories which have been inspired by the books.

Kris McKie, Head of Collection at Seven Stories, explains:

“Our collection is at the heart of everything we do at Seven Stories, and so making sure that it can be accessed by as many people as possible is a priority for us. We believe that stories are for everyone, and that the stories in our collection – both in the books and surrounding their creation – should be shared as widely as possible to support young people’s development, and encourage reading for pleasure, for all its lifelong benefits.

“The new site, developed with support from the Weston Cultural Fund, not only brings together treasures from our collection in one place for the first time, but delivers 24/7 accessibility to a global audience, allowing us to reach more people than ever before.”

In their mission to improve accessibility to stories for all children, the Seven Stories team developed the online exhibition so that children could browse independently or enjoy the site with teachers, parents or carers, at home or school, to enhance learning, encourage reading for pleasure and inspire the next generation of authors and illustrators. This is something that has been at the heart of their exhibitions in the museum, and their school and community programming, for the last 16 years.

Recent visitor, Jessica Dawson, from Durham, said:

“I visited Seven Stories with my children and some friends in February. I didn’t have much money and really wanted to do something special with them. We had an amazing day. My son Matthew was so interested in everything – he really paid attention to the pictures in the exhibition of books he remembers reading with me, and he and his friends sat for an hour talking about spells and fantastic beasts, inspired by the Wildwood Gallery drafts and illustrations on display.

“He isn’t interested in reading and writing at school, so I felt really emotional when we got home and Matthew picked up a pen and carried on creating fantastic beasts and even wrote a bit about them as well. Even more amazingly, he’s gone on to read two books since our visit. Going to Seven Stories showed him that reading and writing can be fun, and digital resources like this new site will allow even more children to benefit like Matthew, wherever they are.”

Philippa Charles, Director at The Garfield Weston Foundation, who distribute the Weston Cultural Fund, said:

“Our cultural sector is at the heart of our local communities providing not only entertainment but education and inspiration for many. Our Trustees were impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown across the arts in response to Covid-19 and it was a privilege to hear what organisations had been doing to not only survive but also to reinvent the way they reach audiences.

“We all want and need our cultural sector to thrive and, if anything, our time away from the arts has shown just how important they are to us – bringing much needed pleasure and enrichment to our lives.”

Wendy Elliott, Interim CEO at Seven Stories, said:

“It’s a great first step to fulfilling our digital aspirations and increasing accessibility and inclusivity across everything we do. A big thank you to the Weston Culture Fund for their generous support, and the authors, illustrators and publishers who have helped to make this happen. We look forward to adding further works to the digital exhibition, in partnership with established and emerging artists, as well co-curating items with local school pupils and communities, in the coming years.”

Seven Stories recently extended its free entry model permanently, after a successful trial period in February, to mirror its commitment to accessibility both inside and outside the Visitor Centre. The Centre has three free galleries, a coffee shop, children and young adults’ bookshop, café and programme of paid-for events. The Seven Stories team work with schools and communities to deliver extensive face-to-face and digital programming, including author and illustrator visits and residencies, across the UK.

The new website does not replace the museum’s catalogue which will continue to exist at https://www.sevenstories.org.uk/collection/catalogue

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