Children’s Laureate and award-winning author of ‘The Gruffalo’, Julia Donaldson, will soon make a triumphant return to Derry as part of the Humdinger! Children’s Literature Festival, presented by local publishers, Dog Ears. While here, Julia and her troupe will present a fantastic story and sing-a-long event at the Millennium Forum on March 9, writes ‘Journal’ reporter JULIEANN CAMPBELL...
Next month, Julia will bring her best-loved stories to life in Derry, with a rollicking performance of stories and songs from her picture books, including: ‘The Gruffalo,’ ‘A Squash and a Squeeze,’ ‘What the Ladybird Heard’, ‘Room on the Broom’ and ‘The Highway Rat.’
The world-renowned author looks forward to returning to the city.
“We has such a great time in Derry last year, we did a show there last January and it was brilliant,” Julia Donaldson told the ‘Journal’ this week.
“This time around I’ll be there for over a week and I’ll be doing a show as part of the Humdinger Festival. There’ll be five of us in the show, me and my husband Malcolm, who often performs with me, Scott, an actor, and another writer and her daughter, Chloe, too. Chloe will actually be playing a singing mermaid in the show.”
So what can local audiences expect to see during Julia’s stint at the Humdinger Festival?
“We do eight items in the one-hour show, a mixture of stories and songs really. “I often get children to come up on stage, and sometimes the adults too! It’s good to get fathers to play the villain or the dad too, they’re always very good at getting involved, playing along and acting. I’ll also be doing a book signing after the Derry show too.”
Originally from Hampstead, London, Julia Donaldson was given ‘The Book of a Thousand Poems’ by her father when she was just five years old, sparking a lifetime’s inspiration for the author who would eventually carve a career as a writer, playwright and performer.
She originally wrote songs for children’s television but has concentrated on writing books since the words of one of her songs, “A Squash and a Squeeze”, were made into a children’s book in 1993. To date, she has published a staggering 184 works.
“I suppose I’ve been writing for children since my 20s. My first book, A Squash and a Squeeze, is actually twenty years old this year and they’re bringing out a bright red anniversary edition of it for the occasion!”
In 2011 Donaldson was appointed Children’s Laureate, taking over from the illustrator Anthony Browne. The laureate role, which ends in June 2013, sees Julia following in some notable footsteps, with previous laureates also including Roald Dahl’s right-hand man, Quentin Blake and bestselling kids author Jacqueline Wilson.
Did Julia ever imagine her love of writing and entertaining kids would lead to her being given such a prestigious role?
“I certainly didn’t imagine I would end up the Children’s Laureate,” she laughs. “Though I do remember when the job was first created, my husband Malcolm said jokingly to me - that’ll be you someday! So by the time they had asked me I was geared up for it. It’s brilliant, but it’s also very hard work sometimes too, as you never know what’s going to happen. Often things happen, like if there’s a story about libraries they’ll ring me up and I’ll comment on that. So I always have to be ready.”
During her tenure as Children’s Laureate, Julia has played upon her own strengths in continually encouraging children to act and to read aloud. She is also involved in writing short, fun plays for early primary reading groups, plays for entire classes and promoting stories about and for deaf children, as well as promoting libraries and visiting as many as she can fit into her hectic schedule. Indeed, in September and October 2012, the author did a six-week John O’ Groats to Lands End tour of 38 libraries.
As part of this campaign, she has also written many articles and spoke to many politicians about the damaging effects on children when local libraries are closed and librarians’ posts cut.
“I’ve been initiating a lot of things too, and one of the things I’m most proud of is that I created a website called www.picturebookplays.co.uk, which gives lots of recommendations for picture books that can be acted out by a whole class and teachers can make recommendations too,” she says.
While in Northern Ireland, Julia will continue in her duties as Children’s Laureate.
“After the Derry show, I’ll actually be doing a tour of Northern Ireland libraries which is through schools and aimed at 7-8 year-olds,” she says.
“I actually did a big library tour of England and Wales which was brilliant. You can see that when children are engaged and doing their thing, they become so much more enthusiastic about it all. I’ve also plans to visit a prison too, which I believe is part of the programme helping prisoners record stories for their children at home so they remain accustomed to the voices of their parent. That’ll be good...”
Elaborating on her forthcoming NI Library Tour, she went on: “The libraries tour of Northern Ireland is all my husband’s fault! We were at dinner there last year and Malcolm happened to be sitting next to someone from NI Libraries throughout dinner. Next he announced we’ll be back to do a tour of the libraries there, so we are!”
So what’s next for Julia? “I have one new book about unicorns that I’ve been working on, and I’m just putting the finishing touches to that now,” she reveals. “Another thing I’ve been excited about lately is that my teenage book, ‘Running On The Cracks’ has been made into a play. I helped with the script for that, and I also do a talk with the show too.”
And does the current Children’s Laureate have any advice for aspiring children’s writers out there?
“Well, I tend to say to people that if they’re starting to write for children then they should give their essential character a problem and make that problem get worse before it gets better,” she advises. “Because often I find that the happy ending can come too soon in a story.”
Tickets for Julia Donaldson’s show on Saturday, March 9, in the Humdinger Children’s Literature Festival, are on sale now. Performance times are 11.30am and 2pm, and tickets are priced £7.50, available from the Box Office on: 71 264455 or book online at: www.millenniumforum.co.uk.