From Shark in the Park to Foggy Foggy Forest, One Mole Digging a Hole and Never Use a Knife And Fork, many of our best-loved family reads are illustrated, and often written, by legendary children’s illustrator Nick Sharratt. So when we found out he’d be opening his new Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants exhibition at Nunnington Hall, we cancelled our plans and braved the A64 – on a summer Saturday – now that’s commitment! – to see what our three little bookworms would make of it.
A beautiful manor house in the heart of the Howardian Hills might seem an unlikely place to find a vibrant, modern exhibition for children, but Nunnington Hall prides itself on hosting exciting events for all ages and Pirates, Pants & Wellyphants is one of the best we’ve been to. Nestled away in the top of the house, this fun, funny and fascinating exhibition explores Nick’s passion for drawing and how he came to live the dream of drawing (and writing) for a living. There are lots of interesting little details about daily life as an illustrator, and the process of writing and publishing a book – intriguing stuff for adults and inspiring stuff for older children who dream that one day they might follow suit.
There are lots of hands-on activities, too. Our seven and five year olds loved using the light box to trace characters and objects, while the two year old found plenty to occupy her: playing with instruments, racing dogs and designing her own pair of pants.
We all loved drawing on the enormous white board, settling down in the cosy reading corner with lots of Nick’s books and creating our own ‘Sharracters’ on the touch screen. We also spent rather too much time at the dressing up box, turning ourselves into pineapples, mermaids and lots of other characters from the books we’re so familiar with.
I had a hunch that the kids would love the exhibition – which they did – but didn’t know they’d be so inspired by it, and by meeting Nick himself (who is lovely, and proof that meeting your heroes is pretty cool). That night, the seven year old started writing a new story, the five year old turned a sheet of A4 into a book and wrote and illustrated her first proper story, Robot and the Cat, and we found the two year-old asleep with a notebook and pencil in her hand. Whether your kids love looking at, listening to or reading books, or they think it would be a pretty cool job to write or illustrate them, they’re bound to enjoy Pirates, Pants and Wellyphants. It’s a great day out, and it might just be the start of a brilliant career.
Visiting Nunnington Hall with kids: Nunnington Hall is a great place to visit with kids. As well as the exhibition, we enjoyed a picnic in deckchairs on the lawn (in the rain, obviously) while fending off the beautiful, over-friendly peacocks. There’s a tea room, too, if you’re bored of making sandwiches. There’s a croquet set on the lawn for visitors to use (good luck remembering the rules) and a wishing tree – pick up a ribbon from inside the hall for a small donation and tie it to the pretty tree while you make a wish. By the bridge next to the car park there’s a box of sticks. Pick up a few and have a game of pooh sticks – whoever doesn’t fall in the water wins (or something like that).