Julia Donaldson, the English children’s book author behind "The Gruffalo" and "Room on the Broom," will be in Raleigh this month for the release of her new springtime picture book, "The Giant Jumperee."
In fact, Donaldson will kick of her U.S. tour right here at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh at 7 p.m., April 18. Donaldson, the United Kingdom's Children's Laureate from 2011 to 2013, has written more than 100 books for children. Her new book is illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, whose illustrations have graced the pages of books from "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen to "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes" by Mem Fox.
During the April 18 event, Donaldson, who started her career singing and songwriting, mostly for children’s television, and her husband will engage kids in acting out stories and singing songs she wrote for her books. The Gruffalo also will make an appearance.
I checked in with Donaldson by email to learn more about her work, her new book and what she's working on. Here's a Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: Your first career was in singing and songwriting. How has that experience and knowledge of music informed the way you write picture books for kids?
Julia Donaldson: The songs I wrote for children’s television and my musical background (both my parents were keen amateur musicians) have been a huge influence. My very first book, “A Squash and a Squeeze,” was actually written as a song and later turned into a book. In subsequent books, it was natural for me to use rhyme, rhythm and repetition. I try to achieve a musical lilt to the language, and I spend a long time crafting the stories. And I often still write songs to go with them!
GAM: Your book, "The Gruffalo," was an immediate success. What were your expectations for the book when it first came out? Has the reception surprised you?
JD: When I wrote it, I had no great expectations. I just wanted to get the story published and I wasn’t even sure that that would happen. But now I feel like the little Mouse in the story: He makes up the Gruffalo to scare away predators and then finds himself confronted by a real one, and I now see Gruffalos everywhere – on pajamas, stationery, sculptures, and even in a theme-park ride.
GAM: You have a new book, "The Giant Jumperee." What's it all about?
JD: It’s based on a traditional tale, and – rather like “The Gruffalo” it’s about a small creature playing tricks on larger ones. A rabbit, cat, bear and elephant are all terrified by the loud voice coming from the rabbit’s burrow: “I’M THE GIANT JUMPEREE AND I’M SCARY AS CAN BE." But the fear is defused in a more light-hearted way. I wrote the story as a play initially, and it is great fun to act out.
GAM: You've been writing books for children for decades. How have their tastes and the book market shifted in those years?
JD: I’m not so sure that children’s tastes in picture books have changed dramatically, because the themes of these stories are usually quite universal – about survival, quests, being lost, playing tricks, etc. Maybe the style of illustration has changed over the years, with a tendency towards stylized pictures rather than more realistic ones. But, I must say, I adore Helen Oxenbury’s quite representational artistic pictures of the animals in “The Giant Jumperee." Many other modern illustrators would have made them look more wacky and cartoony, which I don’t think would have done the story any favors.
GAM: What are you working on next?
JD: I’m writing a story about a dog who visits children in hospitals. I’ve actually met a dog and her owner who do this and have been on a ward round with them. It was amazing how much pleasure the children derived from petting the dog – and not just the children: the nurses, doctors and parents also benefited from their canine visitor. The book will be a companion to my other dog story, “The Detective Dog,” about a dog who hears children read in schools.
It's free to attend Quail Ridge's event. But, if you'd like for Donaldson to sign a book, you'll need to purchase "The Giant Jumperee" from Quail Ridge to receive a ticket for the after-program signing line. It's best to pre-purchase your book so that you don't have to wait too long in the signing line.