The best-loved children’s stories tend to fly off the page and onto the screen, as a new blockbuster exhibition makes plain.
Moving Stories, which opened at Seven Stories at the weekend, is the result of the first collaboration between the Newcastle-based centre for children’s books and the National Media Museum in Bradford.
“They came to us with the proposition and said they liked what we do,” explained exhibition curator Gill Rennie of Seven Stories. “They wanted to attract more families so they suggested this exhibition. It means we can show items from both collections plus some outside loans.”
The exhibition, arranged under five themes on two floors of Seven Stories, goes back to the very beginnings of screen-based storytelling.
In a display about Alice in Wonderland, under the Worlds of Fantasy theme, there’s a blown-up photograph of Alice Liddell, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote his story, taken by the author in 1858.
Playing alongside it on a loop is the very first screen adaptation of the famous story, directed in London by Percy Stow and Cecil Hepworth in 1903 and held in the archive of the British Film Institute. Starring a young actress called Mabel Clark, who also ran errands and worked as studio secretary, it was the longest film produced in Britain at the time, lasting 12 minutes.
Pre-dating that is a clip from the first film version of Cinderella, directed by French special effects pioneer Georges Méliès in 1899.
Even to a modern viewer, the famous transformation scene looks quite impressive.
The oldest book in the exhibition, displayed in a gold-coloured cabinet to emphasis its importance, is an 1882 copy of Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm.
The brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were born in Germany in the 1780s and their first book of collected fairy stories was first published in 1812.
One story, telling of Snow White, had been in the repertoire of storytellers for hundreds of years but it was Walt Disney rather than the Grimms who was responsible for the most famous version.
According to Gill, the Disney estate was extremely helpful and generous in assisting with the exhibition.
“They allowed us to reproduce an image and blow it up to poster size and they also supplied some facsimiles,” she said.
One of these shows an early sketch of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the scene featuring the Soup Eating Song.
The exhibition shows how generations of storytellers have been inspired by what went before.
A section is dedicated to The Invention of Hugo Cabret, an extraordinary book by American author Brian Selznick which lies somewhere between picture book and graphic novel.
Published in 2007, it was inspired by the story of the aforementioned Georges Méliès, who fell on hard times and ended up selling sweets and toys at a Paris railway station.
Martin Scorsese bought the screen rights to the book and released his film, Hugo, in 2011. His first in 3D, it went on to win five Academy Awards.
In keeping with the Seven Stories tradition of appealing to the child in everyone, there are books and films from different eras.
The Borrowers, an enduring favourite, was adapted by the BBC in the 1970s and there is a collage of the set on show.
Older readers will be fascinated by author Mary Norton’s typescript from 1952, when the characters who would become Pod and Arrietty were called Gorge and Henniwetty. Meanwhile those of picture book age will enjoy playing on the outsized, Borrower-inspired items.
The exhibition shows how some authors have become closely involved in the film-making process.
Shaun Tan, Australian author of The Lost Thing, recalls how he spent one year creating his book and nine years creating the artwork for the film made by Passion Pictures Australia.
Many will be delighted to encounter Shrek and The Gruffalo and a treat for tots is the chance to sit down and watch Charlie and Lola. Author Lauren Child wrote four books which spawned 81 episodes of the animated TV version.
At the end of the exhibition comes one of Gill’s favourites which also scores highly with her eight-year-old son, Euan. This is Mr Stink by David Walliams who, said Gill, “has a voice that is really relevant these days.
“People have compared him to Roald Dahl but he’s not as sinister as Dahl even though there are no twee happy endings.”
On show is the coat worn by Hugh Bonneville who played tramp Mr Stink in the TV adaptation. It’s behind glass but Gill said it smelled quite clean and fresh.
Kate Edwards, chief executive of Seven Stories, said at the opening: “We often think that film and television is replacing the book, leading to children reading less. But actually research shows book buying and library check outs increase with the release of children’s book-inspired films.”
Moving Stories: Children’s Books from Page to Screen runs at Seven Stories until April next year.