Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Interview with Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson

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Julia Donaldson

Julia Donaldson, author of the beloved modern children's classic The Gruffalo (distributed by HarperCollins Canada), has become such a literary icon that not only was she named a Member of the British Empire, she was also made the 2011-2013 UK Children's Laureate. The Children's Laureate position, which has been in place in the UK since 1999, was created to honour excellence in children's writing and to promote children's reading and love of books.

Though The Gruffalo has become a household name, Donaldson has authored nearly two hundred books in total and worked for decades as a songwriter and musical performer.

Today we're speaking with Julia Donaldson in celebration of the 15th anniversary of The Gruffalo's publication. She tells us about why she feels a kinship with The Gruffalo's protagonist, the literary value of taking a bath and the benefits of reading aloud to children.

Open Book:

It's been fifteen years since The Gruffalo was first published. How do you feel about your creation and its journey? What do you think helped children connect on such a wide scale with the Gruffalo books?

Julia Donaldson:

To me, The Gruffalo is just one of my books, and when I meet children and parents, as often as not they say, “Our favourite one is Stick Man” (or The Singing Mermaid or one of the others). But journalists can’t resist making jokes about “a monster hit”, so it always tends to be The Gruffalo who makes the headlines!

It does feel a bit weird now that there is so much Gruffalo merchandise, as well as the film and the play, so that I see my creation everywhere. Sometimes I feel like the little mouse in the book who makes the Gruffalo up and then comes face to face with him.


You started out as a songwriter and performer — do you see yourself primarily as a writer of books now, or do you see your different artistic pursuits as part of a whole?


It’s been lovely for me that I’ve been able to continue with the songwriting and singing alongside the book-writing. I very often write songs to go with my stories, and there are now three books of these songs (The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs, Room on the Broom and Other Songs and The Gruffalo’s Child and Other Songs). I really enjoy performing the songs on stage with my husband Malcolm on guitar — it takes me back to our busking days, though now we don’t need to pass the hat around and go and count the money in a back alley. I also like singing with schoolchildren and getting them to make up extra verses. And I am seriously thinking about writing a musical.


You've been incredibly prolific as a writer. Can you tell us a little about your process and schedule and how you stay so focused?


I don’t really have a schedule or routine. I can go for weeks or even months without writing, but then when I get an idea I worry away at it non-stop. I find that very often I get my best ideas or solve problems when I am either in the bath or going for a walk.


You've collaborated with many incredible illustrators. If you could choose an artist (living or dead) with whom you haven't yet worked with for a new book, whom might you choose?


John Burningham — but I think that he only illustrates his own stories.


Tells us a little bit about your experience as the UK Children's Laureate. What were some highlights of the position for you?


The brightest highlight was my six-week library tour. A lot of libraries in the UK have closed or are under threat, and I wanted not just to add my voice to those of the protestors but also to celebrate libraries and draw attention to all that goes on in them. I’m also very keen on children acting out stories, so in every library I visited the invited classes either performed a picture-book story, recited a poem or sang a song (as well as joining in with my own stories). It was tiring being on the road for so long, but a terrific experience.

I also created a website,, to help teachers act out stories with their classes, and a series of Plays to Read for early readers, as I believe that acting is such a good way of improving your reading and can be a way into books for a lot of children.

I was also keen to promote stories for and about deaf children, and my work in this area included a workshop with some deaf teenagers, helping them to write a picture book called What the Jackdaw Saw. I am very excited that this is actually going to be published next year.


You've gotten so many children excited about reading. Do you have any recommendations for parents with reluctant or shy readers?


I think there’s nothing like reading aloud to your children — even once they are confident readers themselves. I’m not so keen on parents trying to teach their children to read, as that can sometimes be stressful, but there are games with words and letters that are fun to play.


What are you working on now?


I’m putting the finishing touches to a story called The Flying Bath which the wonderful David Roberts is illustrating. And I’m toying with a sequel to What the Ladybird Heard for the equally wonderful Lydia Monks.

Julia Donaldson is the outrageously talented, prize-winning author of the world's best-loved children's books, and was the 2011-2013 UK Children’s Laureate. Her picture books include the modern classic The Gruffalo, which has sold over 5 million copies worldwide.

Julia also writes fiction, including the Princess Mirror-Belle series illustrated by Lydia Monks, as well as poems, plays and songs — and her brilliant live shows are always in demand. She lives in Glasgow with her husband, Malcolm, and their family

For more information about The Gruffalo please visit the Pan Macmillan website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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