I'm sure I'm not the only one whose childhood bookshelves (and, um, present day ones for that matter) were absolutely stuffed with books published by Puffin. One of my best ever birthday presents was a box-set of Puffin Classics which I remember reading one after the other practically without stopping to eat or sleep; and I still recall the crushing disappointment of writing off to join the Puffin Club and discovering that it had stopped running in 1983 - coincidentally the year I was born.*
It's probably no surprise, then, that my visit this week to Newcastle for the launch of a new exhibition celebrating 70 years of Puffin Books at the wonderful Seven Stories was something of a nostalgia trip. There's Nuffin Like a Puffin isn't merely an exhibition about books, but about old and wonderful friends - from The Children Who Lived in the Barn and The Borrowers through to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Worst Witch and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
I could happily have spent hours walking around, following the frieze of friendly and familiar Puffin book spines around the gallery, looking at all the fascinating material on display. Much of this comes from the Kaye Webb archive - Webb of course being the hugely influential chief editor of Puffin Books from 1961 to 1979, who was the first to publish authors and illustrators including Roald Dahl and Raymond Briggs. This archival material includes everything from editions of the Puffin Post newsletter through to annotated manuscripts, original illustrations, authors' notes and personal correspondence right down to a little card from Tove Jansson to apologise for the delay in finishing her latest Moomin book, complete with a tiny drawing of Little My.
Judging by the big, beaming grins at all the other faces at the exhibition launch, I wasn't the only one enjoying myself - and I don't think it was just the pink cakes and ginger beer served at lunch that had everyone feeling so jolly. As Kate Edwards, Chief Executive of Seven Stories, aptly pointed out: "Anyone growing up in Britain will, at some time or another, have read, enjoyed or even fallen in love with a Puffin Book." Perhaps for this reason, There's Nuffin Like a Puffin feels like an incredibly personal exhibition, engaging everyone in a different way - for me it was the original black and white illustrations from Ballet Shoes (Pauline and Petrova in their white organdie dresses) that were especially moving, whilst for others it might well be Worzel Gummidge, or Gobbolino the Witch's Cat.
However, as well as being a a wonderful and nostalgic experience for adults, this is also a hugely fun exhibition for children to enjoy - well, not even just for children really, but for all those who are up for doing things like watching sweet animations (see above), dressing up as a Puffin, crawling inside Stig of the Dump's cave, making magic spells in Meg and Mog's magical cauldron, or playing Mr Big's piano- and if you stand very, very still, you might even spot a Borrower or two!
Conclusions? Highly recommended - there truly is Nuffin Like a Puffin. What's more, if you should go to see it, there's also a lovely Lauren Child exhibition showing in the other gallery, as well as some of my favourite Brian Wildsmith in the Book Den. Hurrah for children's books! Now hand me my ginger beer...
* Fortunately the Famous Five Club was still in operation, but that, as they say, is another story...