A serious whim recently turned into a 4-day trip to London, England. I had been drooling over the exhibit Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library for some time. When my friend Kirsten suggested we go to London to see the Winnie the Pooh exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, we began to plan in earnest. I bought tickets for the Harry Potter exhibit before I even got my flight booked. Tickets were selling fast and the exhibit did sell out, a first for the British Library. But I had two spots for the last day.
Our planning began to come together as we looked at the possibilities in London. I remembered the connection between Brian Selznick’s lovely book, The Marvels, and the Dennis Severs House. Monday was shaping up! First, we set off for the Severs House. It began to snow as we approached the house, making the experience even more magical. This house is a living canvas, a still-life drama. No photos and no talking allowed— you walk through the house and experience it in quiet reverence. I was not the only person teary-eyed as we imagined Uncle Albert moving from room to room, followed by the ghosts of the past. It is a place to experience, so if you ever make it to London, I highly recommend it.
Next we hopped on the train to the Victoria and Albert to see Winnie the Pooh. This exhibit was full of original Shephard drawings, Milne manuscript pages, and interactives for the younger set. Ring the bell at Trespassers Williams’, listen to the story while sitting inside a tree, play Poohsticks on the bridge. I wanted to take the exhibit home with me and set it up in a library: words dangling from the ceiling, Pooh Bear hanging from a balloon, little benches shaped like a child’s bed. Everything was well-thought out, and seeing a beloved story given this much care and attention was a thrill.
After we had soaked in the loveable bear, we headed back across town for a Pub Quiz Night. Not just any quiz, it was a KidLit Quiz night hosted by The Children’s Book Circle . The British take their quiz nights seriously, and luckily we were paired up with a couple of authors who were ok with not being the top team. Our team came in 7th out of 11, so we felt pretty good about that!
Tuesday was Harry Potter Day. I had been following the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts on Twitter and was thrilled to actually be in the building with over 2 million items. This exhibit was so well-curated, with items from not only the British Library, but other museums as well. The exhibit was set up like Hogwarts, with different rooms for subjects. For instance, the Ripley Scroll was displayed in a long case in the Alchemy room. In Care of Magical Creatures, Medieval Bestiaries were on display. Details such as velvet chairs in the Divination room and a chandelier made of cauldrons kept the eye looking up, around, and sideways. The exhibit is coming to New York in October, so there’s a chance for the Harry Potter fanatics to see this still!
Again, no photography was allowed, so you’ll have to visit the Harry Potter exhibit online for interviews with the curator, explorations of some of the items, a quiz, and more. I took away plenty of ideas for my next Harry Potter Party, including the fantastic Family Guide and the “Share Your Thoughts” wall outside the exhibit.
Tuesday wrapped up with a secret London tour guided by Jacob Sager Weinstein. Kirsten had worked with him on publicizing his book, Hyacinth and the Secrets Beneath, and we were fortunate to hang out with Jacob for the afternoon as he took us on a tour to see sights from his books, including a mysterious cathedral spire sticking out of the ground and a dark little secret tunnel that popped us out near the River Thames. You’ll have to read his book to find out what these secrets are all about, but toodling around London with an imaginative author as a guide is quite the experience! Video of our tour HERE!
England has stories, there’s no doubt about that. Perhaps it was the fact that I’ve read so many books that hold these places, or perhaps these places hold stories. Or maybe both.
Books and stories popped up over and over, and my story-loving librarian heart was filled with wonder on an hourly basis: case in point, when we stumbled upon a bookseller who recited Edward Lear poetry after purchase of a Phillip Pullman book, and moments later, we found this boat. Magic is real, folks. Just look for it…