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.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker