Julia Donaldson

What books did you read when you were a child?
I loved Richmal Crompton’s William books and modelled myself on William with his gift for heavy sarcasm (“Huh! I like that.”). I also enjoyed books with an element of fantasy, such as E.Nesbit’s Five Children and It and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, as well as more realistic and detailed books about children who liked acting – Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild and The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown were especial favourites.

If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
Maybe one of my own characters, such as Princess Mirror-Belle, who comes out of a mirror, or the alien Grandmother Smoo from my latest book The Smeds and the Smoos – I’m going to be acting her onstage soon so it would be good to have some insight into her character.

What is the best thing about reading?
Entering a different world and a different mind.

What is your all time favourite book?
To Kill a Mocking Bird is to my mind a perfect book. But of the books in my possession the most treasured one is The Book of a Thousand Poems given to me by my father on my 5th birthday.

Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Talking and listening – and staying off the mobile phone.

How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
They were encouraging and appreciative but not at all pushy. I was lucky because my granny, aunt and uncle also lived in the same house, and they all gave my sister and me books and read us stories. We used to write and draw on the back of big brown envelopes slit open by our granny; I remember writing a story about a wizard who lost his tail.

How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I have seven grandchildren – soon to be eight, and I’ll read them anything not written by me! They do actually like my books I think, but I’m always worried they might wriggle and get down from my lap and leave me feeling mortified. So I read old favourites like Dogger by Shirley Hughes, and more recent titles like Oi Frog by Kes Gray. Other favourite authors are Jeanne Willis and Cressida Cowell.

Julia Donaldson is the UK’s number one picture book author. When a song Julia had written for the BBC – ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’ – was turned into a book illustrated by Axel Scheffler, the duo soon became picture book superstars with titles including The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Zog. In 2019, Julia was honoured with a CBE for her services to literature and she was a much praised Children’s Laureate (2011-2013). Together with her husband Malcolm, Julia performs her stories and songs across the UK and around the world. After a sell-out month at Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, they have been touring The Gruffalo, the Witch and Warthog this year.

The Smeds and The Smoos, Julia’s new book illustrated by Axel Scheffler, is out now (published by Alison Green Books).

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