Sheffield's Weston Park Museum Hosts Lauren Child's Works

By May Redfern | 27 October 2008
An illustration from I Am Too Absolutely Small for School.

An illustration from I Am Too Absolutely Small for School 2003. © Lauren Child

Exhibition Review – May Redfern visited Green Drops and Moonsquirters at Sheffield Museum, which is running until February 15 2009.

Green Drops and Moonsquirters - The utterly imaginative world of Lauren Child is on show at Weston Park Museum, Sheffield, showcasing more than 30 illustrations from the creator of characters that include Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and That Pesky Rat. It is an exhibition especially designed for the under sevens and accompanying adults.

The exhibition is contained within one decent-sized room and begins with a look at the artist’s own childhood and her inspirations such as Quentin Blake, plus the numerous pets she had as a child. The display even includes the original glass used for Lola’s beloved pink milk.

An illustration from What Planet Are You From of Clarice Bean.

© Lauren Child

(Above) An illustration from What Planet Are You From Clarice Bean 2001.

After this introductory section, children can dive in and take part in a variety of activities. Each of Lauren Child’s main books and characters are displayed like mini theatre-sets with at least one interactive activity per section.

The sets include the Princess and the Pea, That Pesky Rat, who is looking for a new home; Herb, the boy who fell into a book of scary fairytales, Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent, Clarice Bean and of course Charlie and Lola.

There is a lot for young visitors to do: dress up, design a pet and display it in a special frame, build a house for the big bad wolf to try and blow down, play in Charlie and Lola’s kitchen and select an outfit for a life-size Lola on a big magnetic board. This was swamped with girls on my visit and the Charlie and Lola section was easily the most popular part of the exhibition.

An illustration from The Princess and the Pea.

An illustration from The Princess and the Pea 2005. © Lauren Child

Young visitors were also trying hard to wait their turn to play on the computer screens to design their own cartoon character or find Clarice Bean’s guinea pig. There are plenty of seats and tables with lots of Lauren Child books for reading while waiting. But although things seemed to be working well on a quiet Friday morning during term time, I wondered how the young audience would cope with trying to share and wait for turns on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Children don’t have many exhibitions designed just for them and this one is a great opportunity to make them feel special in their own right. However, with this in mind some sections would have worked better in a separate space – perhaps outside the main exhibition room.

An illustration from Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent.

An illustration from Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent 2004. © Lauren Child

For example, next to the main Charlie and Lola section is a table of books, which include titles such as ‘Archetypal Patterns in Fairy Tales’ by Marie-Louise von Franz, designed to link the influence of traditional fairy tales on Lauren Child’s work.

This seems rather unfair on young Lauren Child fans that presumably must wait patiently whilst the adults read these rather academic books. Perhaps this shows why grown ups are never in Charlie and Lola scenes, because they tend to do things like this.

In a similar vein, next to the Charlie and Lola set there is a display case where museum staff have indulgently displayed books that they enjoyed in their childhood. I’m not sure how these choices are relevant to the current under-seven audience that the exhibition is marketed towards. Surely there is plenty to be got from Lauren Child’s work for the whole family without having to rely on adult-based nostalgia.

An illustration from Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent.

An illustration from Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent 2004. © Lauren Child

As Lola herself says: “I like to do hopping and sticking and jumping and colouring. I like to do singing and wriggling and bouncing and most of all I like chatting.” So if Lola was curating this exhibition, she would probably also do away with the laminated sheets covered in text that are placed around the room, covering big themes such as ‘a short history of children’s literature’ and ‘the story of fairytales’.

The artwork and stories can stand on their own merits within the museum, without the seemingly obligatory historical links, which can easily just be supplied by the museum elsewhere and in different formats.

Finally, some of the panels are hung too high which makes it difficult for adults who have to lift hefty toddlers so they can see. Similarly, some of the text on labels and panels are tiny. I can’t believe that museums are still doing this. Generally, adult visitors have to scan the panels then interpret it for their children fairly quickly. Dense text makes this difficult so much of the intended messages get lost in translation.

An illustration from That Pesky Rat.

An illustration from That Pesky Rat 2002. © Lauren Child

That said, overall the exhibition is well worth visiting and I know that my own three-year-old daughter would get a lot from it. Lauren Child’s work has huge appeal. Clearly she knows her audience and the detail in her work shows she has enormous respect for them.

Similarly her publishers clearly know their market. The shop is full of Charlie and Lola merchandise. If the exhibition could just fully commit to their young audiences in the same way, it would be perfect.

The exhibition runs from October 4 2008 – February 15 2009 with free admission. Various activities for families take place throughout the exhibition, see www.museums-sheffield.org.uk or call the museum on 0114 278 2600 for further details.

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