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Stories from Home

Ines Sampaio, David Parkin, Tia Chand-Corey
Spark Arts for Children

Stories from Home Credit: The Spark Arts for Children

In pre-lockdown times, Leicester-based children’s arts organisation The Spark Arts for Children (the Spark) create opportunities for children to get involved in the arts via projects in schools, libraries and venues as well as a seven-day festival of performances and activities in February.

However, that was then. As with many theatre companies, venues and organisations, new ways must be found to connect with audiences. The Spark’s response to our ‘now’ is “Spark from Home”, a range of resources for families. As the country went into lockdown, creatives, particularly those who identify as BAME or Deaf/disabled, were invited to submit proposals for the “Stories at Home” project, to “feed the imagination and encourage you to find the extra-ordinary in the ordinary, and dream endlessly of what can happen at home”.

In an innovative move, and a great way to get children involved in the “backstage” aspect of commissioning work, a panel of 26 children ranked the proposals against set criteria and assembled on Zoom with Spark’s director Adel Al-Salloum and producer Tom Newton. Eight stories were selected, with one released every Wednesday during May and June. One of the stories, Druv’s Magical Land by Santoshi Bobby Mann, has been translated into BSL and is due for release on 17 June.

Three stories are available so far and, at five minutes each, ideal for the CBeebies / early CBBC age group as a bedtime story or to inspire activities during the day.

In Truls, the Turtle by Ines Sampaio (released 6 May), Ines sits on an inviting pile of plush cushions and through a combination of enthusiastic straight-to-camera storytelling, animation and music, tells her story of Truls, an intriguing turtle with a penchant for chillis. This has the feel of an old folk tale, mixing magic and everyday life, and Ines’s use of a handpan (similar to an upturned steel drum) adds to the escapist magic, thanks to its resemblance to a turtle shell.

In Lizzie’s Lockdown, David Parkin tells his story straight to camera, aided (sort of) by his cat Benji who does exactly what cats on the Internet do, i.e. not what their owner wants. Lured by butter, Benji hangs around on screen just long enough to hear about Lizzie, her grumpy Grandma Jean and Benji himself. This is a fun story, told in a relaxed style and with some nice poetic touches.

The latest release, The Fox’s Journey, is by mixed-media artist Tia Chand-Corey. We hear but don’t see Tia as she shares her story about a fox making its way through the much quieter city in lockdown in the early evening. Beautifully illustrated with simple yet sharp images, their colours and fluidity really bring this relatable and thoughtful story to life.

The five-minute format of “Stories from Home” works well, not least to accommodate young attention spans but also long enough to inspire; the Spark is also encouraging young people to create their own stories and submit them for sharing online.

After weeks at home, many parents may well be running low on inspiration on how to keep young children entertained and engaged while living through lockdown. Although well over the target age group, I welcomed the brief escape from the uncertainty and bad news into the writers’ various imagined worlds.

Reviewer: Sally Jack