190 books published & translated to 22 different languages
Julia Donaldson is most definitely not the person one would expect to need to come for a promotional book tour, or perhaps even a working holiday, to South Africa and to be available for one-on-one interviews. She is so well known; her books are selling by the millions. Wherever she signs books in a store, like in South Africa, the queues stretch a long way out of the door. But there she was, after a long day of performances for children at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg, sitting down with a glass of well-deserved wine to chat about herself, family and, of course, her books.
With her colourful characters one would expect an author with flamboyant clothes and perhaps an outrageous hairstyle, but Donaldson looks very ordinary, neat, middle-aged and does not mind talking about her age and the fact that she is a grandmother with her sixth grandchild on the way. She talks about how she and her husband Malcolm, now a retired Senior Registrar in Paediatrics and a Senior Lecturer in Child Health, first met and how they used to go busking together and how that led to a career in singing and songwriting, mainly for children’s television.
Aside from the 17 educational books she wrote during the following six years, Donaldson was basically a songwriter – until The Gruffalo, her story about a little mouse who imagines a monster ‘with terrible tusks and terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws’ who turns out to be real.
‘The book was going to be about a tiger but I couldn’t get anything to rhyme with tiger. Then I thought up the lines: “Silly old Fox, doesn’t he know/There’s no such thing as a ______” and somehow the word “gruffalo” came to mind to fill the gap. The gruffalo looks the way he does because of various things that just happened to rhyme like toes and nose, and black and back.’
Together with Axel Scheffler, The Gruffalo, which has sold over five million copies worldwide, was to be her breakthrough. Donaldson talks about the performances that she still does whenever she can, like in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She explains that when she is not writing, she often performs at book festivals and in theatres. She really enjoys getting the children in the audience to help her to act out the stories and sing the songs. Lucky for all the children in South Africa who managed to get a ticket to her sold out shows and those who managed to have a book signed by this remarkable author who seems to always still find ‘Room on the Broom’ to take children along on the journey.
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‘What is the name of Julia Donaldson’s most famous character?’
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