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Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories

Major new free exhibition celebrating the picture book partnership between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler to open at The Lowry, Salford this month

Saturday 22nd July 2023 to Monday 1st January 2024

A major new free family exhibition celebrating the much-loved and longstanding partnership between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler is to open at The Lowry, Salford this month.

The Lowry, in collaboration with publishers Macmillan Children’s Books and Scholastic, is thrilled to be curating a major new exhibition celebrating the acclaimed partnership between Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, who have created some of the world’s best-loved, and best-selling children’s picture books, including The Gruffalo, Zog, Room on the Broom, The Smeds and the Smoos, and most recently, The Baddies.

Julia and Axel: Thirty Years of Favourite Stories opens on Saturday 22nd July and runs until Monday 1st January 2024.

This free family-friendly exhibition will feature several of Julia Donaldson’s personal writing notebooks; containing the very first ideas and creative thinking behind her picture book stories. This will be the first time that they have been shown as a collection, giving visitors a chance to see how her work has developed and changed over the years. These will be shown alongside Axel Scheffler’s original artwork, showing the process of his illustrations from sketches and works in progress, to full page final illustrations that readers are familiar with seeing in the finished books.

The exhibition will also look at Julia and Axel’s own personal stories and their brilliantly creative partnership and how this has developed over 30 years. The exhibition explores their stories through three key themes:

  • ‘Highways’, brings together stories where Julia and Axel’s characters embark on new exciting journeys – from ‘the deep dark wood’ with The Gruffalo and across the sea, so wild and free’ with The Snail and the Whale to blasting into space with The Smeds and the Smoos.
  • The second theme celebrates ‘Heroes’ – from the super-long and super-strong Superworm, to the little girl in The Baddies, who shows us that you don’t have to be big to be brave, and George, the smartest – and kindest – giant in town.
  • Lastly, ‘Home’ focuses on stories with families and friendships at their heart; from Stick Man, reunited with his ‘Stick Lady Love and stick children three’, to the Tales of Acorn Wood, home to many animal friends.

And the Julia and Axel-themed fun will not be confined to the Galleries space, with activities taking place throughout The Lowry. From selfie ops with a large Gruffalo statue outside The Lowry’s main entrance to earning a gold star at the Zog Academy in the Pier Eight lounge, and story sessions at The Highway Rat Storytelling Camp, and interactive role play at The Gruffalo Play Kitchen, there’s loads happening at The Lowry for families for the duration of the exhibition.

Julia and Axel will also feature extracts from Magic Light Pictureshugely popular animated Christmas specials for the BBC, as well as songs, photographs, and a specially created ‘storybook room’, inspired by Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, will provide opportunities for friends and families to come together to read and enjoy Julia and Axel’s stories. Throughout the exhibition there will be lots of fun opportunities for children to be creative themselves as they are guided to write their own stories, draw pictures, dress up, and play fun games inspired by the books.

Julia Donaldson says: “I am delighted that we are working in partnership with The Lowry on this exhibition and that they are celebrating thirty years of Axel and me working together. It is exciting to be able to share some ‘behind the scenes’ secrets with our young readers and to show what happens before a finished book is in their hands. I hope that it will help them to feel creative and to start writing and illustrating their own stories, so that we have new picture-book creators in the future.”

Axel Scheffler says: “I find it hard to believe that it is thirty years since Julia Donaldson and I did our first picture book together with A Squash and a Squeeze. So much has happened since then and many children have now enjoyed our stories over the years. I am very pleased that The Lowry is hosting this special celebratory exhibition and that it will give families the chance to discover more about my illustrations and Julia’s writing.”

Michael Simpson, Director of Visual Arts at The Lowry, says: “This is a unique celebration of the creative partnership of Julia and Axel, whose stories and pictures are loved by children and grown-ups alike.  We want every family to think of The Lowry as the place to go for a great day out.”

Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories runs at The Lowry, Salford from Saturday 22nd July 2023 to Monday 1st January 2024.

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