12 Feb 2015

Oh help, oh no, it's a Gruffalo.

From Nine To Noon, 10:15 am on 12 February 2015
Cover image of The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson

Cover image of The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson Photo: MacMillan

His eyes are orange, his tongue is black, he has purple prickles all over his back

It's a line children, and parents, around the world will recognise from the award-winning children's picture book The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and  illustrated by Alex Scheffler.

The story of a mouse who outwits the  scary creature of the title has sold more than 10 million copies, been translated into 50 languages and made into a film.

Donaldson got the idea for the story from an old Chinese tale about a little girl who escapes being eaten by a tiger by telling it she is the fearsome queen of the jungle. The girl tells the tiger to walk behind her and see how all the animals fear her.

I couldn't make the tiger fit into my rhyme scheme so I decided to create an imaginary monster whose name could rhyme with whatever I liked. 

Many of Donaldson's rhyming stories feature unlikely heroes, whether it be a mouse who triumphs over a Gruffalo, or a dog, cat, frog and bird who join forces to frighten off a fearsome dragon, as in her book "Room on the Broom"

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Alex Scheffler

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Alex Scheffler Photo: MacMIllan

But just as he planned

to begin on his feast,

From out of a ditch

rose a horrible beast.

It was tall dark and sticky,

and feathered and furred.

It had four frightful heads

it had wings like a bird.


Donaldson says children like to be scared then reassured. 

The former Children's Laureate in Britain and has written almost 193 books for children, over 100 of them for schools. Her other popular rhyming books include Stick Man and The Snail and the Whale. 

She started as a children's performer in theatre and television. One day a publisher wanted to turn one of her children's songs, A Squash and A Squeeze into a book, and the rest is history.

She talks to Kathryn Ryan about her career and her love for rhyme.