The Magic of Julia Donaldson and the Illustrators #JuliaDonaldson #NickSharrat #LydiaMonks #Williamaeford #MacMillanKidsUK #Bookbug #ScottishBookTrust #Kidslit #Picturebooks #ChapterBooks

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 Illustrators

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.

Julia and Nick books                                        Julia D and Nick S

  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.

Bookbug Sessions

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.


The Hangry Hamster by Grace McCluskey A short, action-packed book to engage and excite. #GraceMcCluskey #seansteele #damagedproductions #hamsters #education #kidslit #libraries #bookshops

The Hangry Hamster
By Grace McCluskey
Rated: ****

About the Author

The author Grace McCluskey is not your average author by any means. She wrote The Hangry Hamster, aged 8 years old. She is now a little older than this, but still somewhere between that childhood and young-adult stage in life. The story was originally written for the 500 word competition ran by Radio 2. She did not win and naturally became disappointed. She, however did not give-up entirely and with going through all the usual editing processes etc, illustrator Sean Steele got on board and the book was published this summer and is already doing well.

Image may contain: text


Today on my blog, I am delighted to present a review of The Hangry Hamster. I had the privilege of reading the Hangry Hamster pre-publication and knew as soon as I saw it, there was something really good and exciting  about it. I am happy to say I have been proven right and it has now been published with success.

The story introduces readers to Billy who wants a hamster and the fun the two of them have to of them have as they go everywhere together. That is until the hamster can’t go on a plane when Billy is going on a holiday abroad with his family. The hamster then goes on the run through London like no hamster has ever before and it turns out to be quite an adventure and readers will really see what happens when a hamster becomes hangry.

The front cover is brilliantly executed of a huge hamster towering over some famous London landmarks. It’s bright, fun and eye-catching. As an adult who works with every age, this is a book that excites me for children. The story is packed full of action, humour and the relationship between human and pet. The illustrations are brilliantly conceived and go along with the story incredibly well and the story really becomes alive.

I also really like this concept of bonding with a pet and becoming inseparable. The shift in pace works really well when the hamster becomes “hangry”. 
The illustrations are brilliantly conceived and go along with the story incredibly well and the story really becomes alive.

It’s great for a range of children, such as those who like to be read to, readers who are competent readers and enjoy reading alone, readers who are perhaps a bit reluctant. It’s short at 24 pages and there are illustrations on each page as well as a well constructed story.

This is a new story to really become excited about for children and would be an excellent addition to any library, and on your own shelves and is already in bookshops and selling fast. So, give new authors a chance and give this book a try. I reckon your child(ren) won’t be left disappointed. Even if you find it to be sold-out, I would still recommend you put in your request so you have a copy when it is back in stock.

Article on Judy Blume : Are her earlier children/pre-teen and young adult books still relevant today?

I would like to say that I was looking through my shelves and came across my books by Judy Blume, that would be more normal, but I wasn’t. I was in fact in the shower, the place where inspiration has often struck for many a thing. So, my attentions oddly turned to Judy Blume. I began to think about her books that I loved reading, some of them even over and over and it got me wondering about their relevance for today’s children. So that’s what I am going to explore and answer within this article.

Judy Blume, the American author who many children in the 80s and 90s were clamouring to read, not just in the US, but also the UK. She has written several books crossing all age groups. There are books for young children, teenagers/young adults and adults. The question is: are her books still relevant to today’s youthful readers in 2018 and beyond?

All of her stories have something in common with the contemporary, more newly published books that are read today. That is they all have universal themes of issues, friendship, family and what it is to be growing up into a teenager/young adult and finding your way in the world, with so much going on in life. They also have strong, but believable characters that can be easily related to.

These issues aren’t just universal, but still exist today. Take Blubber for example. A book about a girl who joins a new school and happens to be overweight and yet endures being bullied terribly over her appearance. This still goes on in today’s society. The book is also about building resilience and courage to tell someone, to a certain extent as well as friendship. This too is useful for children to read today. Bullying still happens in today’s society!


The Fudge series, starting with Fourth Grade None and ending with Superfudge will still be found as being fun for children to read today. Children still get up to mischief, have friends and family. Her character, Sheila, within this series also has a book of her own called Sheila the Great has themes of friendship and also that feeling of perfection, even though you know you’re not and yet that’s what you feel you have to project to the world. Children to different degrees, still have these feelings as they try to find their way in life and feel that need to impress all the time. They have in the past and I dare say they will into the future too.

Judy Blume Fudge

Just As Long as We are Together, it’s sequel: Here’s to You Rachel Robinson and Starring Sally J. Freedman all have historical aspects within them. The difference that Just As Long as We are Together and Here’s to You Rachel Robinson are written in the present time. Well. the 80’s anyway, but with historical references and race relations, especially within Iggie’s House. The themes throughout them are those of best friends, family and education from a teenager’s point of view. It’s Not the End of the World tackles issues surrounding a family breaking-up and moving ever closer to divorce and all the emotions.  Parents still divorce and children still try to get their fairytale ending. All these books show family and friend issues, which still exist in similar ways as today.

              Just as Long as We're TogetherHere's to you Rachel RobinsonStarring Sally J Freeman as Herself


Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, tackles growing up. It’s about forming secret clubs to talk about things that seem to matter an awful lot when you’re a girl coming of age, such as boys and the changing body. It also has a focus on friendships, family and religion. In this case the Jewish and Christian faiths, interfaith marriages and falling in and out of a relationship with God. Many children, young people and even adults have questions, doubts and curiosity. The book also tackles themes that present in lots of teens/young adults such as anxieties and insecurities about growing up. The books Deenie and Forever are also about the coming of age. Deenie, however shows it from a different point of view. It is primarily about a girl who has scoliosis and how she feels about having a back brace and seeing a councillor as well as tackling growing up. It is also about friendships, puberty, discovering relationships and in Deenie’s case, if a boy would still fancy her or not.
Everyone comes of age and everyone starts growing up, no matter what their life circumstances are.

Are you there God

So, returning to my initial question of: are Judy Blume’s children to pre-teen to teenage/young adult books still relevant for today? The answer is absolutely YES, they are. these topics and issues are always going to be around and even though they were primarily first published between the 70’s and 80’s, they’ve essentially not dated. Alright there aren’t the mobile phones or tablets that we have today, but the topics, the discussions, the issues, the coming of age are all exactly the same as what this age group have right now and future generations will too. They are recurring themes in nearly all of her contemporaries books, in some form or another, be it an actual coming of age book, or fantasy and even some mystery books have some of these themes. That is because they tackle many aspects a young girl, progressing and transitioning into famale adulthood will deal with at somepoint or another in their lives. They also deal with other topics too that are universal and may be witnessed, if not experienced. In some sense, all the characters, even though written a few decades ago, are still going to be just as relatable today as they were when they were first conceived. There are strong, believable characters, there is joy, anguish and compassion to be felt within the pages. There are also lessons to be learnt within those pages, even for today’s society. So, even though the cover-art/book jackets have changed over the years, after each publication, the themes of life in reality have not. Each theme is still being lived out by someone, somewhere in the world, everyday and every year.

So, if you’ve not tried one of these books by Judy Blume yet, perhaps because they’re not on the number 1 spot or because of when they were first published, then think about them again and them a go. These are books that will always stand the test of time and the pre-teen and teenage/young adult groups will always be able to relate to the contents of her books.

Judy Blume’s books can be purchased in Amazon, Book People and other bookshops. Occasionally they can be borrowed in your local library.
They can be bought as a box-set, individually and some stories feature in 3-in-1 books.