American children’s bookshelves have always included popular books such as Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss and The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper. Now these shelves are also often including books written by UK author Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler such as The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child.
Julia Daldson and Axel Scheffler both reside in England. Donaldson lives in Glasgow and Scheffler in London. They began working together in 1993 and the publication of The Gruffalo in 1999 was an enormous breakthrough. The book has since been translated into 40 languages, sold 10 million copies, and been produced on Broadway.
The Gruffalo, and many of Julia Donaldson’s books, are written in verse. They have beautiful rhymes, witty illustrations and often have clever endings.
The idea of The Gruffalo came about when a publisher asked Donaldson to create something based on a folk story. Donaldson came across a tale of a quick thinking girl in the forest who outsmarts a tiger threatening to eat her. Donaldson turned the girl into a mouse, added more predators, and replaced the tiger with a fictional Gruffalo. The result is a humorous story with a message of “how to harness a power greater than you own”.
Donaldson has published 184 books of which 64 are available in bookstores. The remaining 120 books are intended for school use. Not all of Donaldson’s books have been illustrated by Scheffler but the ones that have are wildly popular. Scheffler’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations accentuate the clever plot created by Donaldson. Interestingly, since they live in different cities they do not meet in person to work on the books. Donaldson’s publisher sends the story to Scheffler and he creates the illustration.
In addition to The Gruffalo books, their successful partnership has yielded numerous other books that are popular with the youth in the U.S. including Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, The Spiffiest Giant in Town, and Stick Man.
Many of these books are now available in a board book version allowing the littlest readers (0-2 years old) access to the brilliant illustrations. Boys and girls equally enjoy Donaldson’s books as the stories are not gender specific. American families often receive one Julia Donaldson book, love it and seek out additional Picture Books by the author/illustrator pair.