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The tale of the Big Friendly Library

Monday 22nd August 2016

Listen up as our Events Officer Rowena Fletcher – Wood tells her own story of the Science Oxford Big Friendly Library Tour – we’re all ears!

Are your ears burning? Maybe you heard some swashboggling chirruping about our Big Friendly Library Tour – or maybe you’ve just been holding on to your 👂BFG👂 ears for too long…

Ian BFG ears

Ian Snell, School Projects Officer

Over the last three weeks, 45 pairs of hand-made BFG ears travelled across the county to tell the tale of the science behind Roald Dahl’s stories, in honour of his 100th birthday celebrations.

On their travels, the ‘ears’ met 400 children and 200 adults in 16 libraries, where they were filled with Malteasers, were matched and mismatched, ending up slightly chocolatey and more than a little dogeared. They may not have been particularly functional at amplifying sound – not as good as the clucking cup anyway – but they illustrated the concept phizz-whizzingly!

We looked at sound, we looked at light, and played with BFG shadow puppetry exploring the role of distance in projection and how light spreads out. Every library had a unique set up and the shadows mutated from fun and funky to eerie and atmospheric under low lighting – nowhere more so than Wychwood, our final library, where the glow behind the BFG shepherded everyone into the room and hushed them to whispers…


We tried moving things with our eyes, Matilda-style, but not using telekinesis! Armed with straws and Malteasers, we floated those airy honeycomb bites with our breath alone. Don’t believe me? – Have a go (I’m not in the pay of Mars, I promise). We created static electricity with balloons so everyone’s hair stood on end, and nobody wanted to put their balloons down.

What did we learn in delivering the show? We tweaked and adapted, added new elements (the popular balloons) and stripped out old (such as Powerpoint). We ended the show with the Van der Graaf generator to create a glittering pie-tin-shower finale, and used spectacular hands-on demos and action to keep the audience enthralled through the explanations. A favourite was demonstrating the science behind the Willy Wonka expanding “marshmallow”, a classic Elephant’s Toothpaste experiment that gives Ian a toothache when performed without proper explanation.

Every show was a great success with excellent on-the-job training, giving us so many ideas for a bigger and friendlier show next year. After all, the library tour was an organic thing, like a book. But, like a book, it comes to an end – for this summer.


Thanks to the kind support of our partners Raintree Publishers, Oxfordshire County Council and The Oxford Trust.

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