Sunday, July 19, 2015

Thursday - The Story Museum and "Romeo and Juliet"

Thursday's engaging discussion was on Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials."  Matt's wife, Hannah Field, gave our group a lecture on her specialty - the history of illustrations in children's books.  Following that (and appropriately), our group walked to The Story Museum:

The Story Museum is a children's museum with constantly-changing spaces dedicated to various children's books.  The museum opens into a courtyard:

(On the right you can spot a bit of green - that's a croquet game a la Alice in Wonderland,
complete with flamingo mallets and hedgehog balls!)

Inside the museum we found an exhibit on illustrators:

I like the red tape line on the floor to help children know how closet they can get to the art.

They even had an illustrator on hand to answer questions and work with any kids who want to draw:

The entire museum is wonderfully designed for kids, but in ways that aren't took complex or expensive.  For example, there were activities to help them engage with the art:

The museum staff also had a lot of fun with their signs:

From the illustrator's room we walked upstairs:

to find their rotating spaces.  Each season they invite children's authors to design a space for kids to interact with.  This author, for example, designed a hallway about Merlin and magic books:

The white papers at the bottom of the mural of Merlin is a chained book of spells for kids to explore

Other authors design the rooms around one of their books, often including murals from the illustrations.  Here's my favorite room:

The hallway leading in

In this space, the kids first stop by a set of cubbies to pick a book and a matching stuffed toy:

They then get to go into this awesome bedroom to read their toys the story and to tuck them in bed:

If the kids are too little, their parents or one of the staff "storytellers" can always help out.  I loved the choices of beds for this too, from the giant bed above to the doll-sized one behind those white chairs to this "normal" bed in an adjoining room painted by the author herself:

Most of the rooms are designed to give kids places and reasons to read.  Nearby was a room that included a place to read dog books:

or about sea journeys:

(That's Joe, by the way, a teacher of Latin and Greek at an all-boys private school in Connecticut)

A place to read "dangerous" books:

Here's a story wheel to help kids write their own tales:

and here's a display to help you pick a book to read.  You select a key from this wall:

and match it to one of these lock boxes, each of which has a different book inside:

They even had a place to try on glasses set with mirrors to let you comfortably read a book while lying down:

The most popular room was the throne room.  On one side was a row of costumes and a "story machine":

The other side had large easels with color-coded word panels arranged on them.  There was also a large throne:

(Lance, an English and Theater teacher from Australia, models the throne)
Here are the instructions:

The word panels have microchips embedded in them, so once you sit on the throne, a fanfare sounds and an announcer reads your sign.  If it didn't pick up the signal, it substitutes a generic word.

Of course, as soon as the kids who were in there cleared out, all of us teachers took turns dressing up and filming each other on the throne:

It was pretty darn fun.

The first afternoon lecture was Rebecca Bullard, who studies how books were printed and bound in the 17th and 18th century.  "Here are some books for you to look at," she announced at the beginning of her lecture.  "You can pass them around.  This one's from 1673."  She handed it off to one of us while we try to wrap our heads around casually handling something older than our country.

I skipped the second lecture (on current research into respiratory illness) because Matt had kindly put me in touch with a few teachers at Pembroke College.  Luar and Antonio are two professional filmmakers (Luar's from Israel and Antonio's from Italy) who are currently teaching summer classes in filmmaking to high school students through the Oxbridge Academic Summer program.  I got to sit down with them for an hour or so and pick their brains about teaching film making to teenagers.  Since I'm current designing a new class on that subject for this spring, this meeting was incredibly useful.

We had an early dinner again so that we could all get to Oxford Castle to see a production of Romeo and Juliet performed in the courtyard there.

This performance, while not outstanding, was definitely better than Lear and was really entertaining.  I've never seen Benvolio as such as funny character, nor have I seen the meeting scene at the party played with such fun teenage awkwardness, especially on Romeo's part.  It almost made up for the plethora of bugs in the air who kept landing on us all throughout the show.

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