A Summer of Stories

Many of our summer activities at Manchester Museum have been about stories, books and reading. In today’s Story from the Museum Floor, we take a closer look at the BookBench exhibition, and some of the other Story Explorers events and activities that are going on during this summer of stories …


The BookBench Trail

If you’ve been out and about in Manchester, you may have seen brightly decorated benches popping up all over the place. These are all part of the BookBench exhibition. Each is unique, designed by local children and community groups, with their artwork being inspired by a love of books and reading.


The benches, shaped like open books, are on display until September 2017 at cultural venues across the city. The exhibition is part of the Read Manchester campaign from Manchester City Council and the National Literacy Trust, in partnership with Wild in Art (who worked on Books about Town in summer 2014 and the Big Read in Birmingham in 2016), and promotes reading for enjoyment through a programme of activities and events.

The citywide trail includes 58 BookBenches, five of which can be found here at Manchester Museum.

A Place for Inspiration

For well over a century, Manchester Museum has been a place of inspiration for old and young alike – galleries filled with history, culture and nature are places to learn, play and dream, and have been the key to unlocking the imagination of generations.

Artwork inspired by Manchester Museum’s collections; © Paul Dodgson pauldodgson.com, © Lynne Chapman lynnechapman.blogspot.co.uk, © Mike Daikubara  urbansketchers.org, © Sue Flowers entomologymanchester.wordpress.com, © Steph Coathupe stephcoathupe.com.

Museums are great training grounds for artists to explore the anatomy of humans, animals and plants, and to be inspired by the varieties in form and patterns of the arts and artefacts of human cultures across millennia. Here at Manchester, our objects have been the inspiration for both poetry and song, and also some well-known works of fiction. So, it is particularly exciting to have some of these featured on the BookBenches hosted by Manchester Museum.

The Elephant Thief – Stanley Grove Primary School

Released earlier this year, Jane Kerr’s debut novel, The Elephant Thief, takes as its point of departure the story of the journey of Maharajah the elephant, from Scotland to Manchester (his skeleton is on display in the Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum).

“When pickpocket Danny accidentally bids for Maharajah the elephant at an Edinburgh auction, he’s swept up on an unforgettable journey. His new employer, a zookeeper, transforms Danny into a bejewelled Indian prince. As he rides Maharajah from Scotland to his new home in England, even Queen Victoria follows their journey with delight. But a rival zookeeper wagers on their failure, and soon Danny’s shady connections threaten to overturn the mission …”

And Stanley Grove Primary School, who provided the creativity for this bench came into the Museum last week for Paper Elephants – a day of elephant-themed craft activities!

Stanley Grove Primary getting crafty and creative, with ‘Paper Elephants’ at Manchester Museum.

A Visit to the Museum… – Medlock Primary School

The inspiration for this bench is the picture book ‘The Boy Who Really Really Really Loves Lizards’, by John Hamilton. It follows the adventures of a boy called Oliver, as he journeys through Manchester Museum in search of his favourite lizards and frogs. And readers can follow in Oliver’s footsteps on their own visit to Manchester Museum.

Our Values

It is also a privilege to be hosting BookBenches that reflect the some of the values which are most important to the people of Manchester Museum.

The Journey – Heald Place Primary School

This bench was inspired by the strength, courage and bravery of refugees around the world, which the pupils read about in The Journey by Francesca Sanna.

The ideas behind the decoration of this bench are very much in keeping with Manchester Museum’s engagement with contemporary issues in both collecting and exhibition. In response to the subject of human migration Manchester Museum recently acquired a refugee’s life jacket from the Greek island of Lesvos, the display of which captures contemporary anxieties about the nature of humanity, freedom and movement. Similarly, the Museum is currently hosting an installation, ‘Shabtis: Suspended Truth’ by Zahed Taj-Eddin, reflecting on his own experiences as an artist born in Syria, his contemporary artwork disrupting the Ancient Worlds galleries and confronting visitors with questions about the modern world.

Elmer the Patchwork Elephant – St. Luke’s CE Primary School, Longsight

Elmer is an elephant who has a colourful body, with yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, green, black and white arranged as a patchwork. He has a cheerful and optimistic personality, and he loves practical jokes. The stories by David McKee gently explore of the themes and issues relating to difference and diversity; as Elmer tries to change his appearance to fit in, he finds out eventually that his friends value him because of his difference.

This fits well with the Museum’s vision to actively promote an understanding between cultures, celebrating difference and diversity, and encouraging a sense of community across our city and beyond.

Many of the Bookbenches across the city resonate with the values that we feel strongly about here at Manchester Museum. For example, ‘Manchester’s Secret Gardens’, on display at the Lowry Outlet, created by Manchester College’s Supported Learning Department, is inspired by Manchester-born Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, as well as Manchester’s green spaces.

And our cultural neighbour, the Whitworth, is hosting ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, created by pupils at St Luke’s CE Primary School is based on Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon series.

This is one of the school’s favourite stories of bravery and overcoming adversity. Author Cressida Cowell, an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, said:

“I’m absolutely delighted that a Manchester school has been inspired to decorate their BookBench by How to Train Your Dragon. It’s so wonderful to hear pupils saying that the book has taught them that it’s what’s inside that counts. I hope that families in Manchester will have fun exploring the BookBench trail this summer and will be inspired to pick up a book and discover a love of reading.”

Literacy for Life

The fifth BookBench we have on display at Manchester Museum connects valued with the joy of reading;

The Values of Reading a Good Book – The Co-operative Academy of Manchester

This bench is decorated with the favourite books and characters that illustrate the Co-operative Academy’s values of fairness, ambition and respect, while the quotes show what it means to pupils to read widely and for enjoyment.

One of the big aims of the Read Manchester campaign is to promote reading across the city in order to boost literacy levels, including adult literacy. Activities and programmes are specific and targeted to raise literacy levels among the hardest to engage in the area, as well as within the wider community.

The BookBenches aim to inspire families to read more together. Have a look here at some tips from the Literacy Trust to help make story time special.

Story Explorers

There are lots of literary-themed events taking place over the summer at the venues where the BookBenches are on display, and you can follow a trail between the BookBenches and children can complete fun activities along the way.

“We’re encouraging families across the city to visit and enjoy the BookBenches over the summer – we hope you have fun discovering the benches and discussing the books which inspired them!”

– Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust

With over 4 million objects from all over the world, there are stories all around us here at Manchester Museum! And this summer families are creating and sharing fascinating stories…

#MMStoryExplorers is a Summer Programme of family events and activities running from Monday 24 July to Friday 1 September. Our drop in activities are free and take place daily, from 11am – 4pm

Families have been creating junk model story characters inspired by the Museum’s collections or their favourite stories. Yogurt pots, tubes and newspapers have been transformed into the main character of an exciting story, and families have been adding their stories to our growing story wall.

One young girl shared a story of a caterpillar, which was so eager to grow up, that it went on a journey to eat different colours of leaves, and finally, it turned into a beautiful butterfly with rainbow wings.

The cardboard puppet theatre, is a favoured spot for families. You can make an ordinary brown paper bag into an adorable character by using crayons, colour papers and your amazing ideas. Children have had many fantastic stories after making their own puppets and have been putting on marvellous shows for their friends and parents in the cardboard puppet theatre. Big-ear bunnies, magical unicorns and clever owls are some of puppet characters we have encountered.

And we have our tantalizing tales tent where families have been taking time out to read a story, share a story and read to each other.

As well as our daily drop in activities, have a look at out events list for some of our other book-themed highlights!

For example, on Wednesdays, Manchester Metropolitan University’s Making a Difference Ambassadors are telling the story the ‘Slug Needs a Hug’ in the tantalizing tales tent, with all sorts of props to bring the story to life!

Everyone is welcome to come and join in the fun, and join in the conversation! Here are some of the things that our visitors have been saying so far …

“I’ve come to find my school’s story bench in the Museum”

“Lovely activity and stimulating story session”

“The Slug Needs a Hug is the Best story ever!”

“Today is the first time I have listened to a story.”

“When I get home I will give hugs!”

So, whether you want to delve into the tantalizing tales tent filled with books, perform stories in our puppet theatre and play in our story den, or be inspired by our collection to craft your own characters, there is storybook fun for everyone here at Manchester Museum this summer!

Michelle Scott


Family events and activities this summer;

#MMStoryExplorers Summer Holiday Activities
Monday 25 July – Friday 1 September
11am – 4pm
Free, drop in, families

Baby Explorers
Tuesday 15 & Tuesday 19 August
10.30-11.15am / 11.30am-12.15pm / 1.00-1.45pm
For babies who are not yet walking and their parents, grandparents and carers.
Book one week in advance on mcrmuseum.eventbrite.com or 0161 275 2648 after 2pm.

Magic Carpet
Friday 25 Aug
10.30-11.30am / 11.30am-12.30pm
For active toddlers, parents, grandparents and carers (younger siblings welcome too).
Book one week in advance on mcrmuseum.eventbrite.com or 0161 275 2648 after 2pm.

Big Saturday: Modelling Nature
Sat 19 August
11am – 4pm
See our ‘Object Lessons’ exhibition and the beautiful models on display – from a flower meadow, to sea anemones, mushrooms and lots more. Explore how models can broaden our understanding of the natural world with scientists, artists and experts.
Free, drop in, families

Find out more:
Read Manchester – BookBench Exhibition
National Literacy Trust – Raising UK Literacy Levels
Read Manchester – BookBench Trail Map
Read Manchester – The Complete Set of BookBenches
The Elephant Thief (Colouring Sheet)
How To Tame Your Dragon (Activity Sheet)
National Literacy Trust – Family Reading Tips
Wild in Art
Read Manchester BookBenches PDF


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