The best stories are the ones where you feel you can step inside and explore a whole new world.
Author Julia Donaldson and her collaborator of 25 years, illustrator Axel Scheffler, have quite the knack of doing this.
Their distinct combination of snappy rhymes (Julia was a songwriter first) and vivid characters, brought to detailed and humorous life by Axel’s pen, have made some of the bestselling pictures book of all time.
We first visited this centre dedicated to storytelling last summer, when its Dr Seuss experience was running and we were charmed.
It was wonderful to return with Baby Bookworm, now five months older, and see his new level of interaction with the permanent Story World and Story Garden areas.
But the main draw was A World Inside A Book: Gruffalos, Dragons & Other Creatures.
This 40-minute experience starts with a storytelling session in a cosy room inspired by Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book.
The tale on offer during our session was Zog, which the storymaker delivered with animation and humour despite an equally animated group of toddlers climbing on the play kitchen and Baby Bookworm screeching in earsplitting fashion. Which I enjoyed hugely, as you can imagine…
(And yes, I was that mum surreptitiously feeding my toddler an illegal Soreen to shut him up, attracting the eagle eye of another child who began badgering her own mum for snacks.)
Next, to everyone’s relief, a curtain was lifted and the children invited to explore the world within.
And it really was quite magical, with familiar characters and scenes from Julia and Axel’s books all woven together and made real.
Baby Bookworm made a beeline for The Snail and The Whale, taking huge delight in captaining the ship.
He also loved the Room on the Broom area, donning the witch’s hat and playing with her cauldron.
Otherwise he was quite content to roam around and see what he could find, whether that was Stick Man’s family in puppet form or boxes of play fruit in the Old Lady’s house from A Squash and A Squeeze.
Elsewhere children were running around in Gruffalo costumes, hugging giant giraffes and peering inside miniature houses as if they were The Smartest Giant In Town.
It was chaotic, noisy but quite brilliant.
Before too long, our time was up and we stepped back into reality, leaving behind a scene that looked like looters had stormed through. I pity the staff, I really do.
A World Inside A Book sessions run three times a day on Mondays to Thursdays in term time, eight times a day on Fridays to Sundays and during school holidays.
My only advice would be that while the numbers are capped, ours still felt very busy. If you have a child who gets overwhelmed by large groups or struggles to sit still, think about going to a day with more sessions or pick an early one.
If you have a younger child, also book a spot on the new and free daily storytelling sessions of Monkey Puzzle.
We loved this experience last time (the book was So Much, which is now a household favourite) and it is a much calmer, quieter activity, tailored to 0-3 year olds.
A World Inside A Book: Gruffalos, Dragons & Other Creatures runs until September 2018 at Discover Children’s Story Centre. Entry is £1.50 per person on top of your day pass entry. Booking advised. discover.org.uk