Discover’s new Rosen exhibition delivers the bear necessities and so much more

Guest post by Lindsey Heaven

I started my journey to the preview of Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things, a brand new exhibition at Discover Children’s Story Centre, feeling guilty that I couldn’t bring along my five-year-old. A massive fan of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, he’s the same age that I was when our primary school teacher first began to read us Michael Rosen’s ‘Eddie Poems’. For me this was the moment that I fell utterly in love with poetry, books and reading. Poems read from Quick Let’s Get Out of Here and also You Wait Till I’m Older Than You (collections first published in the early 80s when poetry was a celebrated part of the curriculum) are hilarious observations of Michael Rosen’s son, and are one step on in little people’s appreciation of the satisfying rhythms and magical adventure of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

The journey to Stratford is always a relief to parents of a buggy-aged child with lifts aplenty and limited gaps between the train and the platform on both the Overground and the Jubilee Line. With neighbouring Stratford Circus and nearby Olympic Park, these days Stratford has so much more than Discover for the family visitor. If you are limited for time, the big red cranes of the building site at Stratford station, Robert the 1940s steam train and Malcolm Robertson’s Railway Tree sculpture are enough to delight on the briefest of strolls from the station to the story centre.

This visit to Discover had a lot to live up to, having visited before as a family for the brilliant Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers. Discover’s whole raison d’être is for children to experience ‘story’ in whatever form it may take through art, literature or music and for it to be a completely unrestrained, immersive and entertaining experience. This philosophy runs through everything they do and was most apparent (and appreciated) when my youngest insisted on yelling ‘What man saaaaay, Mummy?’’Who big maaan?’ as the director of Discover and Michael Rosen addressed the assembled journalist and publishers.

So what’s there? Just about everything you can think of from Michael’s picture books and poetry collections. The attention to the most minutiae of detail is incredible and massively appealing to children who (no pun intended) feel like they’re discovering it for the first time all for themselves. The first thing you see when you enter the darkened floor is the giant chocolate cake with its secret larder where kids can role play serving up desserts. Around this, and winding throughout the exhibition space, is the ‘deep cold’ river from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Everywhere you look is the ‘swishy swashy grass’ of the same book – incredibly simple but somehow very attractive to all the little people there, not least because of the tiny bear dens nestled amongst some of the tufts at ground level.

There’s the old fashioned school room from Michael Rosen’s childhood, taking inspiration from the hilarious and illustrated first readers book No Breathing in Class – fascinating for slightly older children and with an old fashioned blackboard, great for creative and chalk-happy toddlers too. Also for older children and parents is the recreated living room of Michael’s grandparents with photos and poems telling the story of his life and inspirations. But each room isn’t exclusive to a certain age group and my toddler loved the living room, in particular the TV that you stick your head into and pretend to be on screen!

Appealing to children’s darker and grubbier sides is the Dread Shed, inspired by both the story Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed and also his poetry collection The Big Book of Bad Things it’s full of grim things like creepy crawlies and (what I think was) fake bug poo on the floor. But by far our favourite part was the ‘big dark forest’ and ‘gloomy’ cave of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt which I thought was more atmospheric than The Gruffalo animation.  The wood chips covering the floor of the forest are so deep you sink deliciously into them and Discover have cleverly tapped into that primal digging instinct that all little people seem to have (and that keeps them happy on the beach for hours), by providing mini shovels to dig holes amongst the roots of the dark overhanging trees. Venture even further into the forest, crouching down low and you’ll discover the cave where you might even come across a bear or three!

I cannot recommend this exhibition or the Discover Story Centre more. Outside of the featured exhibitions, the centre has a permanent indoor story trail secret cave, a musical dance floor, a creative table (by donation), a slide, and an outdoor story garden complete with a space craft and a pirate ship. Negatives are almost impossible to find. It was a little hectic with a toddler, which wasn’t helped by a full class of six-year-olds going round at the same time, but Discover usually sets aside separate times for school trips so that shouldn’t ever normally be a problem.

If you enjoyed The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers, then dare I say it, like us, you might love this more due to the diversity of Rosen’s written work, along with the profile of his career and his life – from his Jewish roots to his opinions on education and politics, making this a much richer experience whatever your age.

It really was a big magical, immersive, success.  But probably one of the most special things that came from our visit, was being inspired to read poems to both my boys last night which they were thrilled and delighted by. So it turns out, we all got to have our (chocolate) cake and eat it.

Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things is on until 10th April 2016.

Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London, E15 4QZ (Mon-Fri 3-5pm – term time, 10am-5pm school holidays, Sat & Sun 11am-5pm, Admission for Adults and Children £5, Family Ticket £18, Under 2’s free).

Tate’s new Turbine Hall commission promises to be a grower for families

Now, I have it on good authority, that scaffolding isn’t just the obsession of my 5-year-old daughter. I think it might be due to its appearance as the ultimate climbing frame, but everywhere we go, from South London to the South of Spain, scaffolding is excitedly drawn attention to. So if your child shares this strange obsession, the inaugural Hyundai Commission in the Turbine Hall of the Tate, is definitely one for you.

Unveiled today, Empty Lot is the first in a new series of site-specific commissions by renowned international artists, to occupy the iconic space, whilst they work towards a new Tate Modern due for opening in June 2016.

Best known for creating sculptural works from local and natural objects, artist Abraham Cruzvillegas has created two giant triangular platforms, propped up by a network of scaffolding towers to hold a geometric grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and soil contributed from parks and gardens across the capital.

Taking inspiration from a number of the artist’s interests, from seed bombing and guerrilla gardening to his Mexican heritage, including ancient ‘chinampas’, small grids of earth used to grow corn, peppers and tomatoes in an area that later became Mexico City, the artist is keen to instil the idea that anything can be useful and beautiful.

From the main viewing gallery, look out across the sea of curious planters, each waiting patiently for nature to decide their destiny from the many seeds or bulbs that could have found their way into the soil donations. Whatever grows will be welcomed; flowers, mushrooms, weeds and they also provide a fantastic reason to revisit the gardening experiment over the next 6 months to make new discoveries.

Family visitors might be disappointed that closer exploration of the planters isn’t possible and I expect every young visitor will want to walk amongst the rows to make their own discoveries, but rest assured; the world beneath the platforms gives way to other adventures.

Head down the steps and you’re treated to a maze of dimly lit structures, where the run-away space of the Turbine Hall that you’ve been used to has been transformed into an exciting network of pillars in which to hide and seek, or shelter from the strange world above. Using the colour key on the wall as a guide, look up to the underside of the platforms above and you can make out a map of London as it contributed to the project in colour spots. In the spirit of unity and accessibility, council estate collections are given equal place in the project alongside that of Buckingham Palace Gardens, with neither holding any certainty for what might grow and when. Part of the task of the work has been to question the relationship between city and nature, and this area creates the perfect underbelly; transitioning you into a space where light is less abundant and personal space minimised.

Although the artist was keen to respect the boundaries of his sculpture and keep the public off the paths, Tate will be updating their community on any discoveries that they make, plus there’s nothing stopping you making your own contributions to the planters. Tate is not actively encouraging seed-scatterers, but rumour has it that some cheeky visitors have already thrown in a few surprises. So with a sporadic plan for irrigation and the warmth of the growth lights, alongside the curious scrap-material lamps, who knows what surprises lay in store as time goes on? Bring a pair of binoculars and a curious mind, and see what you can spot.

Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot will be in the Turbine Hall until 3rd April. Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Sun-Thurs, 10am-10pm Fri & Sat. Admission Free.