Julie Donaldson’s latest book plus more good reads
Julia Donaldson’s new book will resonate with local fans – it was a trip to SA that inspired it
EVERYONE knows the Big Five, but how about the Ugly Five? When Julia Donaldson heard a game ranger using the term while she was on safari in the Madikwe reserve in North West last year she knew she’d just had the idea for a new book handed to her on a plate.
“One day we saw a herd of wildebeest and my husband, Malcolm, said to our ranger, who was named Lucky, that he thought the wildebeest was a much maligned animal and was actually beautiful in a rather odd way.
"And the ranger said: ‘Malcolm, I’m sorry to have to inform you but the wildebeest is one of the Ugly Five’.”
The term is a fun alternative to the Big Five and includes the hyena, marabou stork, vulture, warthog and wildebeest.
“I immediately pricked up my ears,” Julia recalls. “I knew then and there how I was going to write this story, which is quite unusual – most of the time it takes months.”
She was so grateful for the inspiration she dedicated the book to Lucky and a tracker named Charlie.
As she chats to us by telephone, the British publishing phenomenon is as far from the Madikwe reserve as it’s possible to get. She’s in a car with Malcolm and her 92-year-old aunt on a highway in the UK wending her way to Scotland for the Edinburgh Book Festival.
There are many perks to being a bestselling author – the money, the fame, world acclaim. But for Julia none of these top the sense of satisfaction she feels seeing the effect her books have on young readers.
It’s through smash-hit books such as The Gruffalo, What the Ladybird Heard, Room on a Broom and A Squash and a Squeeze that many children have discovered the joys of reading.
Because of what she’s written they feel that they know her – and that’s why they don’t hesitate to write to her.
Julia receives so much fan mail she needs to take a day off each month to reply to all the letters that merit personal responses.
There are those that are so sad they’ve had her “in floods of tears”. Letters from parents who write to her after a child has died telling her they plan to place a copy of one of her much-loved books in the coffin.
She also responds to letters from kids who’ve lost siblings. But most of the letters are sweet. One was so candid and funny she now has it taped up on her bathroom wall.
“It’s from a little boy and it goes ‘Hello, Julia. My name is David. I’m a big fan of yours, but never mind about that. Let’s get back to talking about me’.”
She’s the author of around 200 books – in addition to the 60 in bookshops, she’s written scores of phonics readers for schools. As she approaches her 70th birthday, how long can Julia see herself continuing to storm up the children’s bestseller lists?
“I don’t have the kind of job that you need to retire from. As long as I continue to get the ideas I’ll carry on writing.”
Bet that’s music to her fans’ ears.
Julia's books are witty, wise and often a bit rude – and her young fans love her for it.