What?: One-of-a-kind literary destination designed to fire tiny imaginations with its two interactive indoor galleries and sensory Story Garden, plus a special seasonal exhibition inspired by the work of a selected children’s author. While the very loose premise for the permanent galleries is that a baby alien called Hootah has come to Earth to collect stories to send back to his apparently very tedious home planet, the interiors are deliberately ambiguous. The ground floor is quite dark and haunting and it’s difficult to work out whether you’re meant to be exploring a shipwreck, tiptoeing through an enchanted forest or trapped in a mortuary about to make a grim discovery, and to be completely honest it doesn’t really matter because your kids will be ecstatic and you should be too.
Where?: Stratford High Street. Take the town centre exit out of Stratford station (mainline, Ginger, Central, Jubilee), cross the road and walk quickly through the extremely depressing Stratford Centre before it claims your soul. Once out the other side, turn right and you’ll find Discover on the far side of the road.
Duration: The main space is open every day from 10am-5pm, with two hour-long slots per day for the Dr. Seuss exhibition. This begins with gathering on the carpet for a few rounds of Green Eggs and Ham or whichever Dr. Seuss book takes the Story Builder’s (staff member’s) fancy, then you’re free to explore the space. As in the upper galleries there are variety of sets designed to stimulate imaginative play, including The Cat in the Hat’s house, complete with Dr. Seuss building bricks for kids to spend ages stacking into intricate architectural structures only for someone’s one-year-old to lurch into and completely annihilate (yes, mine); a massive croquet set so they can all play a nice, civilised game together (expect tears); super-sensory fluffy Truffula trees to distract them when everything goes pear-shaped; and plenty of costumes which, from what I could tell, were put there purely for parental amusement and photo ops.
Best Bits: This place is pretty unique. I liked that you’re encouraged to just go with the flow of your child and wander the various rooms and garden at their own pace, and there seems to be something for all ages, with lots of crawl space and sensory stuff for tiny people, and plenty to engage older ones, including boats and rockets to captain, book corners, slides and craft activities such as mask-making and creating your own wooden spoon person to hang in a tree. All the staff I spoke to were lovely and seemed like they genuinely enjoyed working there.
Worst Bits: Obviously this is a fairly child-centric day out (the clue’s in the name) and there’s not much in the way of adult amusement other than playing with your kid or chatting to the various Story Builders who are floating around. At one point Bab disappeared to sit with a woman who was apparently much more interesting than me so I sat drawing a face on a spoon and making it hair out of pipe cleaners. Also, given that this was meant to be this really imaginative, fantastical space, I thought the cafe was pretty dull.
Cost: £6.50 for a whole day, including the special exhibition. A day at nursery would cost at least 10 times that and Bab probably wouldn’t have half as much fun as she did here.
Facilities & Activities: Baby changing on all but one floor; cafe with highchairs and kids’ menu; buggy park; Story Garden with musical instruments and lots of things to climb; small but decent book shop; automatic doors and step-free access.
Would We Come Back?: Yes but we’ll probably wait for the next special exhibition. Please let it be Roald Dahl.
Bab explores The Fantastic World of Dr. Seuss exhibition at Discover Children’s Story Centre