It’s impossible to imagine a time before every child’s bookcase contained a sticky-finger-marked, lovingly well-read copy of The Gruffalo, so great has been the impact of former Children’s Laureate, author, poet and song-writer Julia Donaldson. Her extraordinary imagination has produced classics such as Stick Man and Room on the Broom amongst many others, making her undoubtedly the most popular author for very young children writing today.
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It takes a very special sort of creative talent to come up with books as widely-appealing memorable and enduring as Julia Donaldson’s. The melodic quality of her verse (that adults and children alike know by heart) might stem from her early work as a song-writer, having spent many years writing songs for children’s programmes such as Playdays where she says she ‘became an expert at writing to order on such subjects as guinea pigs, window-cleaning and horrible smells.’
It was whilst working for the BBC that she decided to develop one of her stories, A Squash and a Squeeze, into a book, beginning her career-long collaborative partnership with German illustrator Axel Scheffler.
I’m Going to Have Tea With…
An instant bestseller, hailed as ‘a modern classic’ by The Observer upon publication, the story of The Gruffalo originated from Donaldson’s encounter with an old Chinese fairy tale which gave her the idea for an imaginary terrifying monster, dreamed up to scare but turning out to be real.
The book and its sequel The Gruffalo's Child, have gone on to become some of the most read children’s books in the world, translated into more than 40 languages, spawning television adaptations, outdoor adventure courses, toys and games.
Snails, Whales, Witches and a Wedding
Since writing The Gruffalo, Donaldson simply hasn’t stopped, publishing one bestseller after another in quick succession. Her most popular books, many of them introducing children to ideas through animal stories, have been working with Scheffler with whom she has created (amongst others) Monkey Puzzle, Stick Man (inspired by The Gruffalo’s Child’s toy) and The Scarecrow's Wedding as well as the ever-popular Room on the Broom.
Alongside her work with Scheffler, Donaldson has collaborated with other popular illustrators on projects including Sharing a Shell and What the Ladybird Heard with Lydia Monks and Tyrannosaurus Drip with David Roberts.
Donaldson doesn’t just write for very young children, her projects for older readers have often been inspired by her own children, including the popular Princess Mirror-Belle series (based on her son’s imaginary friend who lived behind the wardrobe door) and her first book for teenagers Running on the Cracks.
Laureateship and Beyond
Awarded the position of Children’s Laureate in 2011 Donaldson has been a tireless promoter of children’s literacy and public libraries and has taken The Gruffalo and other stories on tour but it is for her picture books she will be remembered, she says ‘the best thing about picture books is that they can be anything you like… they can be a joke, or help you come to terms with the death of a grandparent… there's no blueprint'.