Last weekend, we headed to Birmingham with a couple of friends & their daughter to check out the Julia Donaldson Squash & a Squeeze exhibition at the Birmingham Museum. We set off on the train from our local station.
Little T could barely contain his excitement at his first train journey & stood looking out of the window for the whole journey! Just the train would’ve been adventure enough, I think!
Once we’d arrived in Birmingham, we headed for the Museum (after a swift coffee to perk up the parents!) & – to the children’s delight – found Gruffalo stickers up the stairs to direct us where to go. The exhibition itself was excellent; it wasn’t just the Gruffalo & each of Julia’s books had a section, with activities at each ‘station’.
We started with ‘A Squash & A Squeeze’ which our friends hadn’t read, so we watched it on the screen & then the children played in the house, complete with the cow on the table doing a jig! It surprised me to find out that the musical version of this had been featured on ‘Watch with Mother’ on the BBC in 1976, for which Julia was paid £19!
Next up was ‘What the Ladybird Heard’ & ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ where the children dressed up as ladybirds & played with the farm set up. Round the corner were ‘The Troll’ & ‘Tyrannosaurus Drip’, which I have to admit we aren’t familiar with, so didn’t spend so long here.
After this was a corner dedicated to ‘Tiddler’, ‘The Snail & the Whale’ & – Mr Teapot’s favourite – ‘Monkey Puzzle’ (he was disappointed to see it only had a small corner!). There was a large wooden whale that the little ones climbed & slid all over & a large wall with lots of lift up flaps to follow the flow of the tales in Tiddler’s journey. There was also a play table where children could colour in pictures, next to the ‘Stickman’ exhibit, but the attention of our small guests was captured by the next section ‘The Gruffalo’ & ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’.
It’s fair to say that these two were the jewels in the crown of the exhibition, with more space allocated than any of the others. There was a lovely section with a projector, where we made a shadow display with silhouettes of the main characters from the story. Little T & his friend both got into the fancy dress swing of things & dressed as the Gruffalo’s Child (admittedly, Little T needed a little gentle persuasion!). Then we sat in the corner designed to be the deep dark forest & read both of the books. Along the opposite wall were all of the different animals that the mouse met in the forest in the first book.
The next few books ‘Toddle Waddle’, ‘One Ted Fell Out Of Bed’ & ‘Cave Baby’ weren’t ones we knew well, but we sat & read each one & got to know them a bit better. In the next room was a dress up area for distracting the little ones, while the parents read a timeline of Julia’s life & some of her correspondence with Axel Scheffler (who has very sweetly done the most incredible illustrations on all of the envelopes he has ever sent to Julia!). It was fascinating to read some of the original drafts for the books, compared to the final versions we know & love!
The final section of the exhibiton contained ‘Tabby McTat’, ‘Super Worm’, ‘The Magic Paintbrush’ & the ‘Princess Mirror Belle’ series. Unfortunately, Little T & his friend had almost been oversaturated by this point & were starting to flag a little, but we sat & read ‘Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book’ for a little quiet time & then in the ‘Super Worm’ section there was a huge worm drawn on the floor with twists & turns for them to run along, which soon perked them up. We didn’t get chance to read ‘The Magic Paintbrush’ which Julia says is her absolute favourite, so it’s definitely been added to my Christmas wishlist to read to Little T!
We thought that the museum had missed a trick not ending the exhibition in the gift shop, as I was mentally making a list of all the books missing from our collection, but with hindsight it was a pleasant surprise not to be pushed into buying things with 2 toddlers!
We had a wonderful morning of exploring, playing & learning about the books we love. The exhibition still has a few more stops on it’s tour & I would highly recommend it as a day out to anyone who loves Julia’s books, or to anyone who has yet to discover their magic.
In the afternoon, we had more adventures, but that’s a story for another day….