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).

Arts Aloud: Family Friendly Half Term Highlights

If you’ve been too busy to organise activities and you’re panicking that half term is just around the corner, fear-not. Here’s some inspiration from across the family friendly arts scene:

Meeting Mr Boom! Exploring the themes of building relationships and overcoming life’s challenges, this live music and dance show is performed on an inflatable set, and then offers an irresistible opportunity to stay, play and bounce after the performance (The Albany at Deptford Lounge, 19-21 February, 12pm & 2.30pm, Admission £7, Age 3+).

50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) If you want to use half term as an excuse to strike and brave something new, this is just the ticket. Inspired by the book of the same name by Julie Spielger and Gever Tulley, acclaimed German theatre-makers Fundus Theater give your kids the chance to do it all. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and give them unimaginable tales to take back to school (Unicorn Theatre, 14-22 February, 11am & 1.30pm, Admission Adult £16, Child £10, Age 3-10)

Imagine Children’s Festival Promising to deliver over half of the programme this year absolutely free of charge, it’s never too late to plan a day out at this incredible spectacular. Check out my top picks.

Follow the Coloured Brick Road Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, artist Elisa Cantarelli invites you to add to her collection of coloured bricks that will sprawl across the gallery floor, connecting her various work on display. There is a free craft activity in the gallery (Recommended age 3+) plus a workshop for older kids to try their hand at her unique dotting technique (artsdepot, Exhibition 15-21 February, daily 10am-4pm, Admission free, Dotting workshop 20 February, 11am & 2pm, Admission £5, Age 8+).

Figures, Creatures and Tea, by Julia de Greff As well as some great shows topping and tailing the half term week, this vibrant collection of paintings and prints of animals include a giraffe, chickens, kittens, horses, cows, and a glorious whale plus a host of small exotic birds. To accompany the exhibition there’s a children’s gallery trail and a host of chalk boards to create their own versions of the work (Gallery @ Half Moon, 16-21 February and until 13th April, Mon-Fri 10am-6pm Sat 10am-4pm, Admission free).

Once There Was…The Wonderful World of Oliver Jeffers Renowned for their rotating programme of interactive family exhibitions, this magical exhibition allows little ones to venture into the world of some of their favourite characters. A priceless opportunity to climb inside a space rocket, row a boat with a penguin or conjure up a feast from the life-size fridge. This long-running feature is one not to miss (Discover Children’s Story Centre, 16-22 February and until 6 September, Mon-Fr 10am-5pm, Weekend 11am-5pm, Admission £5, Age 3-6)

London Children’s Book Swap A great way to kick off half term, this literary initiative asks children to bring along a book that they’ve enjoyed and swap it for someone else’s recommended read. A chance to share old favourites or discover new stories, as well as make their very own bookmark (Various London venues and times, 14 February, see their Facebook page for your nearest venue or follow the event on Twitter @LDNChildBkSwap, Admission free, All ages)

Roald Dahl Picture Book Week Whether they are familiar favourites or a first-time listen, this week-long storytelling event is a fantastic chance to celebrate the genius mad-cap stories of Roald Dahl. There’s also a chance to make an animal mask (all day, drop in) inspired by the characters from the books (Discover Children’s Story Centre, 16-22 February, Various times, Admission £5 , Age 3+ and 6+).

Comedy Club 4 Kids Just like a normal comedy club, but with less rude bits, a greater chance of being heckled and a time of day that kids can enjoy. This unique event sees the best stand-ups and sketch acts from the UK and international circuit, do their thing for an audience of children and their families (artsdepot, 22 February, 12pm & 2.30pm, Admission £7, Age 6+. Also touring other venues nationwide. See website for details).

Family Art Days Minutes from busy Upper Street, this hidden gem of a gallery is hosting two creative family days during the half term, inspired by the work of Renato Guttuso. Kids can bring along their own favourite object or choose from a selection of weird and wonderful items to create a still life arrangement to draw. Another event invites them to add their thoughts to the interactive colour wheel and make their own spinning colour palette (Estorick Collection, 17-18 February, 11am-4pm, Admission free for children with a paying adult, Adults £5, All ages)

Play in a Day: Chinese New Year Inspired by their resident theatrical production Yeh Shen (a Cinderella-style story from China) this Chinese New Year themed workshop introduces kids to a range of performance techniques including mime, physical theatre and improvisation (Polka Theatre, 17 February, 10.30-am-3.30pm, Admission £30, Age 5-7)

Behind the Scenes: Character Costume Making If your little one is a budding costume designer, then here’s a workshop to let their imagination run wild, with the help of a real life theatre designer. Whether their costumes are inspired by characters of their own or borrowed from their favourite stories, everyone will get the chance to show them off in a fashion show at the end of the day (Polka Theatre, 19 February, 10.30-am-3.30pm, Admission £30, Age 7-11)

Tuttle Families If you were inspired by my feature last year around Richard Tuttle’s Turbine Hall commission I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, then you might want to return for Flock. Part of the Tuttle Families series, Flock is a free performance workshop for all ages and abilities, set to an original soundtrack and guided by dancers (Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, 14 February, 12-4pm, Admission free, Age 5+).

Ooo Mmm Open Studio If your kids prefer to lead the creativity, then perhaps instead pay a visit to the Ooo Mmm Open Studio created by artist Kate Squires, where you can create amazing art together as a family (Tate Modern, Clore Studio, 19-22 February, 11am-1pm and 2-4pm, Admission free, All ages).

Happy half term everyone, see you on the other side!

**Disclaimer: Ticketed events subject to availability at the time of press. Free events based on capacity and first come first served basis.