A few years ago, I took a trip to the theatre with my Women’s Institute to see War Horse, the stage adaptation of the children’s book by acclaimed author Michael Morpurgo.
I’d not read his books growing up so had no idea what to expect.
Not only was I blown away by the spectacle of the life-size horse puppets integral to the show, but also the powerful subjects explored.
Set during the First World War, the story covers separation, betrayal and death, among other things. Tough topics for adults to face up to, never mind children.
But that’s the reason Morpurgo is one of Britain’s best-loved children’s writers – and received a knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours this week.
He isn’t afraid to shy away from the things that make us human.
Michael’s own story is currently the subject of a free exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London, originally put together by Seven Stories in Newcastle.
It’s a beautifully devised show, with areas themed on some of his best known books like Private Peaceful, Kensuke’s Kingdom, The Wreck of Zanzibar and of course, War Horse.
There’s plenty of fascinating background too, from his childhood and time as a trainee army officer at Sandhurst to his years as a schoolteacher and setting up the charity Farms for City Children with his wife Clare.
All of these elements have contributed to his writing – 130 books and counting – which strongly focuses on war, animals, farming and friendship.
Baby Bookworm and I made a short visit before Christmas and while he charged around the place, I was able to look at fascinating manuscripts from the writer’s archive and original illustrations for the books.
I especially loved learning about the writing process of this former Children’s Laureate, which involves going for walks in the countryside, getting to know the characters and telling the story to himself, which he refers to as ‘dreamtime’.
While little ones may not appreciate this detail about the creative craft, there’s plenty for them to do, such as dressing up stations, a reading nook and a wooden boat with sounds that BB was obsessed with.
And I think it’s safe to say we both enjoyed seeing the Joey puppet from the National Theatre production of War Horse up close.
Or should I say, Sir Joey.
When Sir Michael was interviewed about his knighthood a couple of days ago, the 74-year-old modestly dedicated the honour to his famous equine creation.
He said: “There was never a knight that has owed so much to his horse as this one.”
Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories is at V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London, until 25 February 2018. Entry is free. Find out more at vam.ac.uk
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This looks like a real nice exhibition! I like your comment about how the writer isn’t afraid to shy away from the things that make us human. It’s difficult to find children books as such these days, especially with over- protective parents around, scrutinizing each page of the books to make sure the contents are politically correct and feels right for their kids without any element or topic too “difficult” to explain to the kids.
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I think the beauty of children’s books is that they allow us to tackle difficult issues in an accessible way for little ones. Roald Dahl was brilliant at doing that, Not Now Bernard by David McKee is another excellent example.
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