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Julia Donaldson, Children’s Laureate

Tuesday 21 June 2011
Words Spindle

Julia Donaldson was recently crowned as the new children’s laureate, and was presented with a medal and a bursary of £15,000. She follows in the footsteps of Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Anthony Browne. She subsequently received an MBE for her services to literature in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. During her time as the seventh children’s laureate she hopes to encourage children’s singing and drama skills.

Additionally, she has expressed a huge interest in discovering more about stories for deaf children, and supporting libraries against the threat of closures and cuts. Donaldson is best known for The Gruffalo, her tale of the intelligent, little mouse who outwits a series of ferocious, greedy predators, the fox, the owl, the snake, and, of course, the Gruffalo, but let’s remember five other brilliant stories from this magical storyteller.

1. The Gruffalo’s Child, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, Macmillan
Five years after the mighty success of Donaldson’s picture book, The Gruffalo, she wrote its equally superb sequel. Here, the Gruffalo warns his daughter of the Big Bad Mouse in the deep dark wood. However, his restless, curious daughter decides to risk venturing out of her safe cave into the snowy night to see whether the fearsome, monstrous mouse really exists. It’s a clever reversal of the original story, and readers will delight in the mouse’s genius, quick-thinking brain power. The Gruffalo’s Child earned itself the W.H. Smith Children’s Book of the Year award at the 2005 British Book Awards.

2. Zog, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, Alison Green Books
Zog is an eager pupil at Dragon School, aspiring to win the golden star for being the best student in his class. But his lessons in flying, roaring and breathing fire result in some unfortunate accidents. Luckily, there is always a mysterious girl on hand to act as his medic with her supply of bandages and plasters.

Donaldson capsizes the stereotype of the fairytale princess as simple, vacuous and helpless when the story reveals that the girl is in fact a princess with high hopes in pursuing a career as a wise and knowledgeable doctor. Unsurprisingly, Zog is also another one of Donaldson’s award-winning books, as Zog managed to bag a Galaxy Book Award last year.

3. The Rhyming Rabbit, illustrated by Lydia Monks, Macmillan
The Rhyming Rabbit does not fit in with the rest of his long-eared family, as he is the only one who immensely enjoys creating poetry from the world he lives in. The other rabbits are thoroughly irritated by the poetry fan, moaning that he should silently munch grass or have a quiet snooze instead. The lonely, poetic rabbit encounters a variety of woodland creatures that similarly reject his passion for rhyme. That is, until he stumbles upon another furry friend who shares the same rhythmic hobby. The tale demonstrates the enormous pleasure one can gain when experimenting with the multitude of language sounds; the value of observing your environment with an alert, keen mind, and the awesomeness of possessing your own distinct, individual personality.

4. The Princess and the Wizard, illustrated by Lydia Monks, Macmillan
The wicked wizard comes whooshing down the chimney with a ferocious flourish, interrupting Princess Eliza’s seventh birthday party. Eliza’s Fairy Godmother casts a spell allowing Eliza to change her shape and colour seven times in order to escape from the malicious wizard’s powerful grip. Like the story Zog, Donaldson creates a princess with a tremendous strength of character as opposed to the stereotypical depiction of the damsel in distress. The beautiful, glittery pages are also a splendid way for children to learn about a wide palette of colours and an assortment of shapes.

5. Freddie and the Fairy, illustrated by Karen George, Macmillan
How happy Freddie is when he rescues Bessie-Belle the fairy who promises to grant his every wish! Yet Freddie becomes increasingly frustrated when the fairy keeps mishearing his requests. This is a terrifically engaging story, which also creates a greater understanding of those with hearing impairments, and teaches its readers the importance of enunciation.