Bringing Stories to Life with Julia Donaldson

Category: Bookbug

Everyone here at Bookbug is passionate about creating a lifelong love of books and reading in children. Discovering new ways to inspire the imaginations of little ones through stories, songs and rhymes lies at the heart of this.

We always love to hear how parents, authors and others working with children have brought favourite books to life in fresh and engaging ways: the dad who never walks across a bridge with his children without saying 'who’s that trip trapping over my bridge' in a troll voice or the author who encourages the children he meets on tour to jump in the air at relevant points in his book. The words on the page are key, but how we bring these words to life and create experiences for children in our reading of the story is just as important.

One author who has certainly captured the imaginations of millions of children with her wonderful tales of highway rats, travelling snails and the odd case of the moosles is Julia Donaldson. The rhyme and rhythm of Julia's stories make them perfect for reading aloud to little ones, and so many of her picture books depict characters just waiting to jump off the page and into the bedrooms, libraries and classrooms of our children. 

Bookbug was delighted to catch up with Julia as she prepares to bring a further collection of our favourite characters to life in her new show, 'Gruffalos, Ladybirds and Other Beasts'.


Can you tell us a little more about your new show ‘Gruffalos, Ladybirds and Other Beasts’ and what inspired it?

Ever since I did a show at the Fringe nine years ago I’ve been itching to come back, but I felt that this time it would be inspiring to have a director. Then when I went to see the play of Stick Man, I met Peta Maurice, alias Stick Lady, and found out that she was also a director. Peta came to see a couple of my shows at the Book Festival and that gave her some really good ideas for a more ambitious show – with a set and a soundtrack and some brilliant new puppets for A Squash and a Squeeze. There is a great cast of five (husband Malcolm, sister Mary and two professional young actors, James Lewis and Joanna Hutt), and we are going to be acting four stories and singing three songs – with lots of help from the audience. 

Which character(s) from your books have you most enjoyed bringing to life for your shows and why?

I always enjoy acting the Mouse (in The Gruffalo) and Madam Dragon (in Zog) and am looking forward to those roles, but perhaps what I’m most excited about in this show is that we are dramatising Jack and the Flumflum Tree, so the characters in that book are coming to life for the first time – Jack and his Granny and his shipmates (Red-cheeked Rose and Stubble-cheeked Stu, pictured with Jack).


Jack and the flumflum tree characters

Music is a key feature of your shows - why is that?

I was a songwriter long before I wrote any books, and I still love composing and performing songs. Audiences are always really good at joining in the choruses, and I think that it’s good to vary the content of a show, interspersing songs and stories. In this show, as well as singing A Squash and a Squeeze we are going to be doing two action songs (“Funny Face” and “Spin and Swing”).

Do you have any tips for parents on how to bring your stories and characters to life when reading your books?

Most of the parents I’ve met don’t need any advice! In fact, they are always telling ME things about the characters – for instance, one dad said 'You do know the Gruffalo is Australian, don’t you?' and loads of parents have sung me the tunes they’ve made up for the song sung by the Smartest Giant in Town. One thing that seems to work well is to share out the parts in a bedtime story, with the child doing some of the characters’ lines and the parent the others. It doesn’t matter if the child can’t read as they soon become familiar with their favourite stories and learn them off by heart.


What are your favourite picture books by other authors/illustrators?

Gosh, there are so many! I absolutely adore the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. Books I enjoyed reading to my own children include Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Dogger by Shirley Hughes. More recent favourites are Dogs Don’t Do Ballet by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie, Elephant Wellyphant by Nick Sharratt, Baby Brains by Simon James, The Snorgh and the Sailor by Will Buckingham and Thomas Docherty,Traction Man by Mini Grey, and I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins.

'Gruffalos, Ladybirds and Other Beasts' will be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show is on daily at 11.30 at the Udderbelly Cow from 6 August till the 31 (0844 545 8252,, and will be followed each day by a book signing.

We’re very honoured that Julia Donaldson is Bookbug’s patron. Julia is the author of over 100 picture books, including The GruffaloRoom on the Broom and Stick Man. You can find out more about Julia on her website.

Discover further tips on how to make reading to your children fun and the importance of songs, rhythm and rhyme in early years development in our latest Bookbug blogs.


Main photo courtesy of Steve Ulathorne