Bringing Stories to Life

Tish Francis gives us a behind the scenes tour of Oxford’s newly refurbished Story Museum.

We all know there’s something very powerful that takes place when you lose yourself in a good book. You surrender yourself to the imaginary world between the pages, immersing yourself in the characters and their narrative – often returning to the ‘real world’ with an uncomfortable jolt. For many of us that experience started once we’d become confident independent readers, and we could list for you the stories that hold a special place in our hearts because they entered our lives at this transition point when the whole world of literature opened its secrets to our hungry imaginations. And we also know that in order to stand a chance of achieving the joys of surrendering to a good book, we need to ensure that younger children have built the necessary vocabulary and confidence with books from their very earliest years.

The Story Museum in Oxford, reopening this April after a £6 million redevelopment, seeks to get right to the heart of these all- important early story experiences. Starting out as an outreach project in schools, using storytelling to help children build vocabulary, confidence and communication skills, the Museum has always had a clear ambition to also exist as a physical entity, celebrating stories in all forms. And where better than Oxford, a city with so many rich connections to story from Lewis Carroll to Philip Pullman and where the streets buzz with languages and peoples from across the globe.

In 2014 The Story Museum opened as a ‘part-made’ Museum, using the rough spaces in its city centre buildings to try out a range of temporary story exhibitions. We learnt so much during those four years of public opening! Some discoveries were quite surprising, others less so - and all have informed our current redevelopment. In no particular order, here are some our findings.

1. If you have a wardrobe full of fur coats and you let people step through it into Narnia some of them will cry because they’ve finally realised a life time’s ambition, but if they’re under 5 then they’ll be very happy imagining that they’re in Frozen!

2. Don’t underestimate the power of a comfy sofa and a selection of books. When we provided a room of places to sit and read because we didn’t have the budget to fill the space with a new exhibition, it proved to be one of the most popular rooms in the Museum.

3. People love to share stories. One of the most striking things about The Story Museum has been the way that groups of all ages interact with each other as they explore our spaces. We’ve particularly enjoyed seeing children who’ve visited with their schools, rushing

10 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020

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