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Playful Julia Donaldson Spins Songs into Stories

Playful Julia Donaldson Spins Songs into Stories

If you are looking for picture books with charming rhymes that tell funny stories to amuse preschoolers and their adults, Julia Donaldson is your author. She got to fame as a children’s author in a roundabout way. Before she set down words between book covers, she used to write children’s songs and plays for British TV and radio.

Julia has written well more than 100 books, and it all began with A Squash and a Squeeze, which was originally written as a song for children’s television. It’s the story of an elderly woman who is unhappy that her house seems so small. Fortunately, a neighbor has a very clever solution!

As a musician, Julia was happy to set her stories down for all to see—and keep: “It was great to hold the book in my hand without it vanishing in the air the way the songs did.”

Enter the Gruffalo

Some years after A Squash and a Squeeze, Julia and her illustrator, Axel Scheffler, had their break-out hit with The Gruffalo.The Gruffalo

It’s hard being a small mouse. No one is afraid of you. But perhaps they will be afraid of a terrible beast with a tongue that is black and who has purple prickles all over his back. Little Mouse makes up the Gruffalo song about a creature whom all the predators fear. But what happens when she meets a real Gruffalo?  This book became a modern classic, and it has a sequel—The Gruffalo’s Child.

A Singing Cat. Imagine That!

Tabby McTat, the Musical Cat is a happy rhyming story about being lost, being found and having life go on. Tabby McTat is best friends with old Fred the busker—that’s a street singer. Every day, they sing for their supper. And breakfast. And lunch. Sometimes Tabby McTat wanders off between performances. One day, he wanders back. And Fred isn’t there.

The story of the very fine cat and his dear old friend is retold, with rhymes reminiscent of Edward Lear. This tale of busking has something to do with Julia’s own life as, before they had children, she and her husband used to enjoy going busking together throughout Europe. She wrote many songs for their tramps abroad, and, eventually this talent would turn into her job writing children’s songs for television.  These days, Julia and her husband Malcolm are back to their busking ways as they frequently entertain youngsters with songs from her books.

Giants and Jumperees

Younger children may enjoy Julia’s team-up with a famous British picture-book illustrator, Helen Oxenbury. The Giant Jumperee has not so many words as her usual books, but it is a very cute story with lovely pictures about a rabbit whose home has been invaded by a seemingly invisible Giant Jumperee. On the other end of the spectrum, older children can enjoy a rich story about a great giant of a girl named Jumbeelia and her wish to meet a (relatively) tiny family in The Giants and the Joneses. Readers can even learn some words in the giants’ own speech.

Pick a peck of Julia’s picture books for happy days with your little ones. The stories will make them cheerful while subtly teaching them the joys of language through rhyme. Click here for all of our books by Julia Donaldson.Stick Man

Fast Facts:

Born: September 16, 1948, in London, England (UK) to James (a geneticist) and Elizabeth (a secretary) Shields

Education: Bristol University, degree (drama and French), 1970

Family: married Malcolm Donaldson (a pediatrician), September 30, 1972; children: Hamish, Alastair, Jesse

Selected Awards: Smarties Gold Medal for Picture Books and Kate Greenaway Medal nominee in 1999; Blue Peter Award for Best Book to Read Aloud and Experian Big Three Book Prize in 2000, for The Gruffalo; Blue Peter Award for Best Book to Read Aloud, Children's Book Award shortlist, Sheffield Children's Book Award shortlist, and Scottish Children's Book Award, all 2002, for Room on the Broom; W.H. Smith Children's Book of the Year honor, 2005 for The Gruffalo's Child; Blue Peter Award for Best Book to Read Aloud, 2005, for The Snail and the Whale; Children's Laureate of the United Kingdom, 2011-12; Red House Children's Book Award in the younger children category, 2014, for Superworm.

Home: Sussex, England (UK)

Other Interests: piano, singing, walking, flowers, fungi

Read More About This Author Online:

"Gruffalo Creator Julia Donaldson on Life in Steyning, Helping Others and Inspiring a Generation"
An article that appeared in Sussex Life in January, 2015, tells of what Julia’s been up to since their move to Sussex.

"Julia Donaldson." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2014. Biography in Context. Use your CRRL card to access this database.

“Julia Donaldson: ‘I’m Like the Mouse in The Gruffalo’”
Share a charming visit to Julia’s longtime home in Glasgow with a reporter from The Guardian newspaper. (July 2014)

Julia Donaldson’s Website
The author’s own page has a wonderful “About Me” section.