The Magic of Julia Donaldson and the Illustrators
Julia Donaldson, an author’s name who just trips off the tongue so easily when talking about children’s books. Who can’t help but love what she has done for children’s literature. From the Gruffalo to Stick Man and everything in-between. So many bookshops and libraries have them, even the community library I run here in Scotland has so many of her books.
What Perhaps Make her books so popular?
Perhaps it is the fact she is a genius at writing in rhyme. Children love rhythm in stories. There is also repetition and this in turn helps make them interactive as children can latch onto key repetitive sentences and say them out loud, once they are known. Perhaps it is the brilliantly vivid illustrations. Perhaps it is the stories, there’s just enough fun and trepidation and pace within them and they are excellent to read aloud, as so many parents and librarians and teachers have discovered over the years.
The books all have been excellent illustrated. Possibly the best known illustrators linked with Julia Donaldson’s books are – Axel Scheffler who also has his own series of books – Pip and Posy and has also illustrated for other books too. Nick Sharratt who illustrates so much like the ever popular Tracy Beaker and Shark in the Park series amongst many others. There is also Lydia Monks and David Roberts. These people also all add to the enduring love of her books. Children are really captured by the big, bold illustrations, which always pair up so well with the text. Their books are always worth looking out for. I plan to write more about a couple of these illustrators in a future blog/essay post.
Learning to Read and Using Her Books in a Fun Educational Sense
There are a great selection of books and have been for many years, which help children learn how to read. Julia Donaldson also has her own books to add to the plethora of stories which help children with phonics and beyond. Her series is Songbird Phonics and are again beautifully illustrated and are also well-conceived. They are an excellent addition. There are many books in this series to aid children’s development educationally in the 3Rs sense too (all her books have something that children can learn from as there are indeed from all books in one way or another, whether they are for children or for adults).
There are many resources that can be downloaded for free from her website, which contain many activities that are useful for both schools and libraries, which in my view is thoughtful and they do seem to be well-thought out and are sectioned into each book that she has written, so they can be part of a focused activity.
There is always something great that children can gain from her books and she even provides free resources, which are great as I have tried and tested them in the library. There are also soft toy merchandise so that her stories can be acted out or to just have them to accompany a story. I have seen them and they look and feel fabulous.
Chapter Books and Interactivity
There are also books that aren’t termed as picture books, there are books for slightly older children such as Swallows about the migration of birds and a message having to travel many miles. Again there are wonderful illustrations and something to learn from the story. It too has excellent scope for interactivity, given just a little imagination from the deliverer. I once, and may repeat it as it was so successful, played Chinese Whispers with a class of school children to show how a message may change as it travels. There are many other things you can do for this.
There are also books such as the Princess Mirror belle series, which is great for the more advanced readers and have less illustrations within them, but do have lovely front covers by Lydia Monks. They are about a princess with a purpose.
Julia Donaldson’s books are no doubt books that will be around forever, perhaps even have a longevity of someone like Enid Blyton for example. Some of them have already been in existence for over 10 years already, which is hard to believe, but time does fly. The Gruffalo and so many of her books are talked about as though they have just been written and are hot off the press. They still seem as fresh to new generations of children as they did when they first appeared on shelves.
Julia’s books have now been adapted for both tv and stage as well, to the delight of many. She does go to book festivals, especially the Edinburgh Book Festival. Have I ever met her? Sadly no, but never say never. Would I like to? Absolutely, to say a huge thank you to what she has brought to libraries and children’s literature.
Children’s Laureate – 2011 – 2013
Julia Donaldson was appointed Children’s Laureate between 2011 and 2013, today as I write this it is Cressida Cowell, who I am sure will, like her predecessors, do something good within her role. In her laureate role Julia Donaldson has campaigned passionately against library cuts and closures. Sadly libraries are still closing and libraries (mine included and others and the job went too and now I am leading a community library to compliment the local authority) are not always taken seriously enough by governments, even when there are people within government who claim to be passionate about books and education and libraries. There are also other factors at play too. The main thing is that she tried to have all libraries saved and has shown she cares as many authors etc do.
She is also instrumental to Bookbug sessions (rhymes, songs and stories that are provided for Free, often by libraries in Scotland). People are trained prior to leading a session and provided with the resources to deliver. There are also Bookbug Co-ordinators around Scotland.
Bookbug sessions help reduce the negative effects of poverty and every session is always free and benefits babies and young children.
Singing rhymes and sharing stories support children’s language, learning and social skills. They also support bonding between baby/child and the adult with them.
I lead Bookbug and they do involve some preparation work, but they are fun to do and knowing that it is something so worthwhile being to be involved in, makes it even better, but then I like to do things for communities and always have included books in some way or another and have done for over a decade in some form or another and still I am relatively young (under 40 at time of writing this). This time around it is for a community library and whenever the local authority libraries that I used to work in are in need too.
I think that the magic of Julia Donaldson will be around for generations to come as will Bookbug (so long as there are no more cuts). She goes to book festivals, the Edinburgh Book Festival in-particular to meet her audience and to bring her stories to life and that too will no doubt add to her appeal and her ability to be relevant and current, even though she has been writing since at least 1993 with A Squash and a Squeeze.
She has won many awards and deservedly so and is still writing today.
I totally rate her and the illustrators associated with her for bringing so many great stories that can be worked with more than one way as they can be read straight or can prompt a conversation of discovery for children.
There are some authors who write similarly to Julia Donaldson who are emerging. I of course rate Nick Sharratt, but the author who I am thinking about at this moment is William AE Ford who writes Timothy Mean and the Time Machine. I mention these people because it is important and good for children to be able to try out other authors too.
So here’s to Julia Donaldson and the illustrators who have and indeed the people who publish her books, which is now over 70 and long may it all continue.