Best-selling author Julia Donaldson speaks to tbjkids about her popular children’s book The Gruffalo
Beijing’s young fiction fans were given a treat last month when hugely popular British children’s author Julia Donaldson (accompanied by her guitar strumming hubby Malcolm) arrived to give an all-action performance of her book The Gruffalo. This quirky picture book has sold over a million copies and been translated into 31 languages. tbjkids headed to The Bookworm to catch the show and check out just how excited the lucky little Beijingers in the audience were going to get. Afterwards, we managed to grab a word with the lady herself.
Your books The Magic Paintbrush and The Gruffalo were inspired by Chinese folk stories. Have you seen anything on your trip to China this time that may make its way into a future story of yours?
Julia Donaldson: The Magic Paintbrush is very much a retelling of an original Chinese story (Shenbi Maliang, 神笔马良), whereas for The Gruffalo I just used the idea from a Chinese story as the nucleus and developed it from that. Actually, I am in the middle of writing a novel for older children. It’s about a 15-year-old girl who runs away to Glasgow because her parents have been killed. I’m sure the things I’m seeing here will influence the story in some way, but the ideas need to settle and develop in my mind first. Maybe it will be the Chinese food!
You and your husband Malcolm sing, dance and act during your readings. Do you think your books are better read aloud, rather than read in silence?
JD: My books should probably be read aloud. If the books are read silently I’m sure the reader can hear it in their head, but as a lot of my books have a rhyming scheme, to really enjoy them you have to hear them aloud.
Your collaborations with illustrator Axel Scheffler have been very successful, especially on The Gruffalo. Do you think his pictures help to complete the story that you have created?
JD: It’s just part of the process of writing a book. I send the book to the publisher; the publisher then sends it to an illustrator, who comes up with some rough sketches. I then get to see these and I can make a few comments or suggestions about them. But when I wrote the book Monkey Puzzle, Axel had terrible trouble with the skies he was drawing. Everyone thought they were brilliant but he thought they were rubbish. He wrote me a funny postcard saying that he hoped the next book I wrote didn’t need any pictures of the sky. So I wrote Sharing Shell, which takes place underwater, so there wasn’t a single picture of the sky in it.
When you were younger you wanted to be an actress. If you were given the chance to act in a movie adaptation of one of your books, would you go for it?
JD: Yes, but I wouldn’t like to be the age I am now. If I could be any character I would have to be younger. I really identify with my character Mirror-Belle [from Princess Mirror-Belle]– she’s a bit anarchic like me. So really, I’d like to play her, but I don’t know if I could get away with playing a character that young. Probably playing a little old lady would be my best part now.
How do you explain the amazing success of The Gruffalo?
JD: I suppose that’s not really a question for me – you should ask the people who buy it or like it. I have thought about it though and I think it’s the combination of a good plot and some really interesting language at the heart of the book that makes The Gruffalo so successful.
Do you have plans to write a third installment of The Gruffalo?
JD: I’ve thought about writing The Gruffalo Granny and so on, but I think I would only be interested in doing it if I thought of a very good plot. The Gruffalo is now going to be made into a one-off TV show. It will be about half an hour so I will have to come up with some more plot. I already have a few ideas and I will be very interested to work together with the TV company to get it made. So The Gruffalo will be back in another form at least.