Lauren's inner child

IT is rare to find an exhibition devoted to the work of a children's author and illustrator doing the rounds of art galleries and museums and the arrival of Green Drops and Moonsquirters is surely a measure of the status of Lauren Child.

The creator of Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and That Pesky Rat is sanguine. "I think there have been ones before devoted to people like Quentin Blake," she says. "I think they chose it because they could see the potential for interactive things."

Green Drops and Moonsquirters, opening at Weston Park Museum tomorrow, combines original illustrations with hands-on fun for under-sevens and their families. Visitors can step right into the world of the storybooks through playhouses based around her most popular characters.

Families can sit at Charlie and Lola's kitchen table and make meals with food from their fridge, dress-up in their favourite outfits including Lola's fabulous alligator costume from I Am TOO Absolutely Small For School.

They can draw imaginary friends on a magna-doodle (inspired by Lola's friend Soren Lorensen), visit Grubby Alley where That Pesky Rat lives and perform puppet shows in a theatre created from the four-poster bed in The Princess and The Pea.

This new exhibition, curated and developed by Manchester Art Gallery, features more than 30 original illustrations from Lauren Child's books, alongside a selection of 3D sets and doll's house furniture created for The Princess and the Pea.

More: Izzy enters the world of Charlie and Lola VIDEO

Lauren Child was a struggling artist, forced to do odd jobs which famously included a stint as an artist's assistant for a then unknown Damien Hirst, before her career in children's literature took off when her first book, Clarice Bean, That's Me! was accepted by a publisher in the mid-Nineties.

Another of her creations, Charlie and Lola, have reached an even wider audience through their own Cbeebies TV show, on which Child was closely involved. "I would go in a couple of times a week to work on ideas for the scripts and doing some of the design.

"If they needed, for example, to go into Charlie and Lola's bathroom or anything else they didn't know I would draw it or give them an idea of what it should look like."

Surprisingly, there are only three original Charlie and Lolas written by Child herself but she plans to produce another one in the future when she has time to get round to it.

Her latest publication is Who Wants To Be a Poodle? It's a straight picture book, going back to painted illustration.

One of the things taking up her time is her work with UNESCO to highlight the plight of street children and children living in poverty. "I'm an Artist for Peace which means travelling with UNESCO to various countries to identify projects and the way we would be able to help," she says.

That Pesky Rat is spearheading the project, though it involves a lot more than running art classes for street kids.

"It's education-based. It can be learning through team work or learning basketball or circus skills, things that are relevant to their lives," she explains. "Art and writing will play a part in that.

There's the hope that if they get taught drawing they will learn to read and write."

So far she has been to Mexico, Laos, Mongolia, Egypt and Guatemala. "Meeting children is fascinating and they are interested in what I am doing," she reports, even though they are unaware of who she is.

Do these encounters give her ideas for her stories since she as yet has no children? "Writing for children is no different from adults. You write about what you are interested in, then you have a good chance," she replies.

"I get asked this question about not having children more than any other and I've asked a friend who writes children's books and is now a parent and she says it doesn't make any difference."

The child within her provides the inspiration, she considers.

To mark the launch of Green Drops and Moonsquirters there is a day of activities at Weston Park tomorrow (October 9).

The title of the exhibition, which runs until February 15, comes from I Will Not Ever NEVER Eat A Tomato in which Charlie tries to get his fussy sister Lola to eat by pretending that peas and tomatoes are exotic delicacies like incredibly rare green drops and moonsquirters.

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