Step into a pop-up book

Fiona MacAulay visits the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery

"Roald thought museums were awfully boring," said Liccy Dahl, the widow of one of our best known children's authors, as we walked around the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery in Aylesbury. "Entertainment for adults, torture for children. But he would have loved this."

"It's like walking into a giant pop-up book", was the verdict of Quentin Blake, the illustrator of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and a host of other Dahl stories. The newly opened gallery is not just a themed fun palace - it is an interactive children's museum. It ingeniously links Dahl's stories to objects on display and teaches children about the world around them in an entertaining and stimulating way.

The Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dominates the entrance to the atrium of the gallery. The voice of Willy Wonka, the great sweet inventor, chivvies you inside his far-from-ordinary lift. The domed roof of the atrium is dotted with planets from outer space, as seen from the Glass Elevator, and Charlie and Mr Wonka are there among them. Enormous, delectable Wonka sweets decorate the huge windows above the gallery entrance. Huge, brightly coloured "dream bottles" from the story of the Big Friendly Giant sit on a high shelf.

Dangling from the ceiling in the atrium is the oddest chandelier, suspended from which are a hotchpotch of objects including a policeman's helmet, a tin of Spam and a truncheon. A verbal joke made visual. "What does a policeman have in his sandwiches? Truncheonmeat." Children are encouraged to look at things carefully and to think about words and their meanings - and jokes. Roald Dahl loved jokes.

Inside the Giant Peach, re-created in the Discovery Gallery, are drawers with enticing labels. "Seacumbers and sandthumpers" reveals a selection of shells and coral, and the cheeky title "Even older than Grandma" introduces a drawer full of fossils.

Across the room, Fantastic Mr Fox's tunnel just begs to be crawled through. Glass covers in the floor reveal underground treasures - some broken bits of pottery and more fossils. Through peep-holes in the walls a stuffed mole and badger take on lifelike qualities in their own small burrows.

Above the tunnel are huge, transparent pipes filled with luminous green bubbles which transport you back to the Chocolate Factory and the world of amazing Wonka creations.

Next door is Matilda's Library, a quieter area in which to look at the array of Dahl's books or pick up an earpiece to listen to one of the stories. A video and photographic display tell us more about his life and work at Great Missenden, down the road from Aylesbury.

Ascending the brightly coloured metal stairway to the upper floor, you enter the Imagination Gallery. On the door is a copy of the steel hip that Roald used as the handle to a filing cabinet drawer in his study. (This was his original false hip, which he had had replaced). In this room, illusion and reality intermingle. There are distorting mirrors and different contraptions which introduce the world of animation, including the Victorian magic lantern. You can create your own animated story sheet at the work benches provided.

The Twits' Upside Down room, suspended from the gallery roof, relates to all the experiments with illusion and reality. When the Twits found their room like this, they didn't know whether it was the room that was upside down, or themselves. Animated visuals on a computer screen explain how the eye sees things the wrong way up, which are then corrected by the brain. The refrain on this dip-in-dip-out programme is "Baffle your brains and boggle your eyes - Things are not always what they seem." The images back this up by showing how one thing can soon turn into something else. It is true Dahlesque philosophy.

The gallery, originally an 18th-century coach house, is the creation of the museum designers Morag Bremner and Mick Orr, who have also redesigned the adjacent Buckinghamshire Museum - recently the winner of the Museum of the Year award. They have worked together with the Buckinghamshire Museum team and with Liccy Dahl. "We had crazy afternoons coming up with ideas," says David Orr. "The problem has been deciding which ones to use." The funding of more than pounds 600,000 came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the County Council, Liccy Dahl and private gifts.

The Roald Dahl Children's Gallery inspires inquisitiveness as well as fantasy and imagination. "Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around," said Dahl in The Minpins, "because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places."

The Roald Dahl Children's Gallery, Church Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (01296 331441). Entrance fee pounds 1.50. Open 10am-5pm weekdays and Saturday; 2-5pm Sunday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz