What?: I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Julia Donaldson and Axel Schleffer, the author-illustrator team responsible for children’s titles such as Monkey Puzzle, Stick Man, The Smartest Giant in Town and, more famously, The Gruffalo, and the inspiration behind Discover’s latest World Inside a Book exhibition. Bab’s book collection consists of knackered old lift-the-flaps books purchased from Mothercare circa 1987 (usually sans-flaps), replacement copies of lift-the-flaps books purchased from Mothercare circa 1987 that couldn’t be saved and everything by Chris Haughton (he is amazing), with not a Gruffalo in sight. But that didn’t matter.
This isn’t like an adult going to see going to Harry Potter World when they haven’t so much as flicked through The Philosopher’s Stone. This is basically a massive, themed indoor playground for you and your child to explore. It’s cheap, 100 times more interesting than your local soft play and (in theory) guarantees you 40 minutes of peace; quite frankly it could be themed around soiled nappies and we’d still go along for a look. Plus we both really enjoyed Discover’s previous, Dr. Seuss-themed exhibition, and we are no friends of The Cat in the Hat.
As with the Dr. Seuss display, visits to Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures begin with a 10-minute story session (our story was Room on the Broom), before everyone is released into the story world via a sliding bookcase. Our session was incredibly busy, which made making sense of an immersive kids’ literary exhibition we didn’t know the first thing about even trickier and more random than you would expect, but we were undeterred, braving The Highway Rat’s cave, dodging a life-sized plastic cow, climbing aboard the aforementioned broom and makinge our way through the Monkey Puzzle jungle regardless.
Obviously it would have been nice if we’d recognised some of the sets or models and I’m still holding out for a Roald Dahl-themed exhibition (check out the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire if you’re also a fan), but we still had fun. Even in a relatively small space surrounded by 20-30 other parents and kids there is plenty to keep everyone occupied, whether that’s jumping on an old lady’s bed, messing around with a magnetic word board or becoming a giant in a miniature town. I had no idea what any of it meant but to be fair that’s probably what being a toddler is like most of the time anyway. Admittedly not as good as Dr. Seuss, but still worth a look.
Where?: Discover is located at 383-387 High Street, Stratford, and is a five-minute walk from Stratford (mainline, Ginger, Jubilee, Central, DLR) station.
Duration: Sessions last 40 minutes.
Best Bits: Little touches like the sliding bookcase door and the lights that created the illusion of a river were really clever.
Worst Bits: You’re not allowed to be even slightly late to these sessions. We arrived literally seconds after our time slot and the receptionist was so exasperated and huffy with me you’d have thought I’d kicked her dog to death. Another stupid rule is that A World Inside a Book is a food-and-drink-free zone, which as the mother of a perpetual snacker is always incredibly annoying. You cannot reason with Bab when it comes to snacks. There is no distraction on Earth interesting enough to divert her from her desire to snack. You just have to give her the bloody snack. So when she started chanting “meewlk” mid-story I had to take her outside for said milk, then when we got back inside I had to keep covertly slipping her raisins when no one was looking so we didn’t miss the entire thing. It was also horribly busy.
Cost: Day passes cost £6.50 for everyone aged two and over, and £2 for one year olds. Under-ones go free. Entry to the Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures exhibition costs £1.50 each.
Facilities: Buggy parking, baby changing, step-free access, cafe.
Would We Come Back?: No doubt we’ll come back to Discover, but probably not the exhibition.
Bab meets The Snail and the Whale at the A World Inside a Book: Gruffalos, Dragons and Other Creatures exhibition, Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford.