Julia Donaldson tells us why she adds threat to a happy kiddie story

Updated: 28 January, 2018 09:51 IST | Chandrima Pal | Mumbai

Prize-winning writer of some of the best-loved children's books, Julia Donaldson, currently in the city, tells us why she adds threat to a happy kiddie story

Julia Donaldson

If there be a guardian angel who watches over millions of hapless parents struggling to get their children to sit still, pay attention, and maybe even go off to sleep, she is probably Julia Donaldson. The creator of modern day cultural icons, Grufflalo and Zog, is currently UK's no. 1 author, with more than 17 million copies being sold worldwide.

According to The Guardian, in 2014, Donaldson's book sales beat those of Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Grey and Dan Brown's books. Donaldson, 69, the undisputed queen of picture books, is loved for her quirky, at times cheeky and feisty characters — a highway rat with a sweet tooth, an intelligent ladybird with a heightened sense of hearing, a brave mouse, a kind witch with ginger plaits, a super worm, and of course, the Gruffalo — a curious creature that defies description and remains one of her most successful creations till date. Donaldson's world is a mix of the old and the new, instantly recognisable and fantastical at the same time. And the stories are gloriously witty, often with a twist in the tale.

In India on a performance tour — with characters from her wildly popular books coming alive on stage — Donaldson has been greeted with a rousing welcome in city after city. From thrilled children and grateful parents. mid-Day caught up with the author in Kolkata, a day after she performed to a thunderous applause at the Kolkata Literary Meet, in the backdrop of the Victoria Memorial Hall.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

It is impossible to read out your books without getting animated. They compel us parents to engage with the stories in a very dramatic way. Is that by design?
I think that is probably because I come from a theatre and drama background. But I do get told by parents that …oh you know that Gruffalo is Australian really, or from Birmingham… parents do like putting on different voices when they read out to children.

How important is the element of fear in a children's story. How integral is it to a child's growing up experience?
In a children's story, fear makes it exciting. It would be very boring to talk about a girl, who had her breakfast and went out for a walk and no one threatened her and she came home. There would be no drama, or threat. Fear is important because it tells you about your strength. My stories are often about how a small, vulnerable person overcomes fear. Even in Room on the Broom, there is a scary dragon but there is humour in the fact that it likes to have witch with chips. Even the scary looking Gruffalo is easily duped and a highway rat, who is a tyrant, likes sweets and biscuits. So I temper the scariness with a little humour.

There has been a trend to view fairy tales and children's stories through the prism of political correctness. Traditional, folk and fairy tales are often critiqued for the inherent violence. What are your views?
I find all the talk about political correctness quite tedious. I am amused when someone tells me 'Julia, that story is so good because the girls are courageous and the men are not (trails off). There may be other stories where they will criticise me, but really that's not the first thing on my mind. But violence. I am not bloodthirsty but some of my stories are traditional and some traditional tales can be very bloody. For instance, there is a story about a man and his wife being served some porridge which is actually their child being boiled up in a broth. I do not think any publisher would want me to write anything like that and I would not want to be a part of something like that any way.

But I do think it is odd that we, children's writers, get criticised for not being politically correct and yet the children are watching things like...I am not saying there is anything wrong with Star Wars but they are very violent with explosions and weapons. No one seems to criticise the toy shops full of super heroes like Batman and Spider Man who are macho and carry weapons. No one seems to mind that. But when children's writers write something that is not quite politically correct, oh dear, the fingers start to wag!

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First Published: 28 January, 2018 09:42 IST


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