We chatted to Little Angel Theatre’s Artistic Director about her new production of Julia Donaldson’s best-selling book Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, playing at the theatre from the 18th November until the 4th February.

(c)Phil Tragen

Hi Samantha, how does it feel to be bringing Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book to the stage? Really exciting. The book has been a family favourite in our house ever since my children were little (they are now 14 and 12!) We all really loved the conceit of a book within a book within a book. It created such a springboard for the imagination too – we would often go completely off-piste and start to make up our own stories for each of the books. It’s why I have always thought it had so much potential to be adapted for the stage. 

What was it that appealed about the story? For me it’s the joy of reading. The book really celebrates this – not just in prose form, but in newspapers, magazines and encyclopaedias too. Charlie is engrossed in every book he picks up – which is just brilliant. My youngest daughter can be a reluctant reader, but this book shows you that reading comes in many forms – and that really helped her. The fact that it is a picture book also helps – it’s just another visual way into reading. I also really love that the book hints at each new story, but so much is left to the imagination of the reader – albeit with Axel’s gorgeous illustrations in mind – again, making it perfect for the stage.

Books form an important part of childhood – do you remember your favourite book as a child? It’s so difficult to pick one book. I’ve always been an avid reader – which is another reason why Charlie Cook appeals so much – I guess I just share his passion! I had a gorgeous illustrated fairy storybook that I loved to look at, and copy the pictures from, when I was really little. My dad read me The Secret Garden when I was about five or six and I would make him read the next chapter and then the next chapter and then the next chapter, putting off going to bed for as long as possible because I was so engrossed. I must have then re-read the book myself later at least ten times, as well as watching the film. I also adored The Magic Faraway Tree series, and later all of the Anne of Green Gables books (so much so that I dragged my husband all the way to Prince Edward Island in Canada to see her fictional house!) I also got quite into John Wyndham books – The Chrysalids was my favourite, and I also loved the Flowers in the Attic series. I have quite an eclectic taste, but what I love most is a really good story.

How would you describe the show?It’s a fast-paced, puppet-filled musical that both celebrates the joy of reading and the power of play.  The stage adaptation differs from the book, which is essentially a series of skits where Charlie moves from one book to another by introducing a new character, Charlie’s sibling, who is a reluctant reader who doesn’t like reading.  But, through play, Charlie and his mum show her just how fun exploring books can be; and by the end, she loves it!   

As well as the production itself, there’s a range of workshops running alongside it. What can you tell me about those? We have developed a play-based workshop that demonstrates to both teachers and parents/carers how you can explore a picture book through play.  Our aim is to share creative routes into books – both in the home and in the classroom – and ultimately to prevent reluctant readers AND celebrate the joy of reading.  Workshops will take place in schools and libraries will be aimed at EYFS and KS1 age children. 

What do you think Charlie Cook’s Favourite book teaches us about the power of reading? Many things – there are eleven different books within the book and it is essentially a book that celebrates the joy of books and reading.  I think Julia wants her readers to know that reading comes in multiple forms – stories, poems, newspaper and magazine articles, recipes, encyclopaedias (which would probably be replaced with the Internet if it had been written today) and that it is OK for us to enjoy reading in lots of different ways.  I also think it is showing the reader and the audience that there can be a joy in reading beyond the page; in the adaptation through playing out the stories further and using the imagination – each book is brought to life vividly with amazing songs by Barb Jungr and wonderful puppets by Maia Kirkman-Richards; and in the book through providing a springboard for discussion – what do we know happens in the book versus what else could potentially happen? 

By Emma Clarendon

To book tickets visit: https://www.littleangeltheatre.com/whats-on/charlie-cooks-favourite-book/


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