Picking your favourite Julia Donaldson book is a bit like having to choose your favourite child.
As one of the UK’s most successful authors (she sold 27m books during the last decade compared to the 14.1m of novelist James Patterson), she is responsible for some of the best known stories and most memorable characters of this century.
From global hit The Gruffalo, one of her many collaborations with illustrator Axel Scheffler, to adorable board book It’s A Little Baby, poignant Paper Dolls to dramatic Detective Dog, there is a story for everyone.
Julia, 72, also has a magical knack for a rhyme, honed through years of writing folk and children’s songs, as well as creating books with important messages while never feeling saccharine or preachy. I had the good luck to meet her for an interview in 2018 and she was funny, forthright and fascinating.
No wonder her contribution to literature is being honoured this Christmas with a BBC2 profile documentary (The Magical World of Julia Donaldson, BBC2, Wednesday 23 December, 7.30pm), along with the premiere of the latest animated version from her incredibly long list of books – Zog and the Flying Doctors (BBC1, Christmas Day, 2.35pm).
But while her books would make many of our top five lists, what would Julia’s top reads and authors be? We asked her – and here are her choices…
MY FAVOURITE… CLASSIC PICTURE BOOK
Dogger by Shirley Hughes (£7.99, Red Fox) is special to me because I read it to my children and one of my sons had his own toy called Dogger. Buy from Amazon
But I also love all the Just William books (£6.99 each, Macmillan). I used to collect them when I was about his age. He is always so well meaning. He takes an idea that grown-ups have and uses it. So if he hears you should always tell the truth and his aunt asks if he likes his Christmas present, he tells her no. I love all that.
I used to collect them, I still have about 20. I had a best friend who collected them too and we would swap if we had two copies. I read them with my children but the language is quite sophisticated. Richmal Crompton wrote quite grown up language and for today’s children, it is very grown up. I would read them aloud to my children and put on the right expression so they could understand. Buy from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… RECENT READ
100 Dogs by Michael Whaite (£6.99, Puffin). Mostly I don’t like other people’s rhyming books because they don’t rhyme properly, they don’t scan properly and they don’t have any shape. It’s got to have a shape to it.
I would never write a rhyming book if the story didn’t lend itself to it. But some people decide to write in rhyme for no particular reason. But I appreciate that this one has got a form and the rhyme comes through consistently. It’s also nice at the end when you choose which dog is most like yours or which is your favourite. Buy from Amazon
The Cat, The Mouse and The Runaway Train by Peter Bently and Steve Cox (£6.99, Hodder) is another one written by someone who understands and can do rhyme. Buy from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S AUTHOR
Arnold Lobel is my absolutely hero. A lot of people in this country don’t know about him. He’s best known for the Frog and Toad books but my favourite is The Grasshopper on the Road (Out of print).
His stories are all quite fable like. Grasshopper is a wanderer, he’s not a routine person and there are lots of separate stories which are very short. He meets different insects who are all wedded to their routines and prejudices and he doesn’t want that.
Arthur Lobel illustrated them as well – he’s a good illustrator but it’s the storytelling that’s wonderful. They are still terribly popular in America.
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S ILLUSTRATOR
It has to be my long-term collaborator, Axel Scheffler, who I first worked with on A Squash and a Squeeze (£6.99, Macmillan). I love his artwork for our recent story, The Ugly Five, and also The Highway Rat, because he’s my sort of favourite villain. Buy from Amazon
MY FAVOURITE… CHILDREN’S BOOK CHARACTER
Father Christmas from the Raymond Briggs book of the same name (£7.99, Puffin). He is just tremendously grumpy and I love how it’s mostly told in picture but he occasionally mutters something. Buy from Amazon
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