Children’s writer has monster appeal

  • Maia-Jane Fay, 6, Julia Donaldson and Jeanne Bean (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Maia-Jane Fay, 6, Julia Donaldson and Jeanne Bean (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

As a popular children’s author Julia Donaldson is used to signing stacks upon stacks of books.

But she was not prepared for the congregation at Saltus Cavendish.

The writer and her sister, Mary Moore, were visiting their aunt, Mary Hopkins, the former headteacher of the primary department, when they decided it would be fun to hold a book event at the school.

“The signing was epic,” Mrs Donaldson, who wrote The Gruffalo, laughed. “About two-and-a-half hours.

“I do so many book events, but I thought that it would be really nice to approach the school where she used to teach and for her to come along.”

Children and staff gathered for a half-hour assembly. Mrs Donaldson and her sister acted out The Gruffalo, while the teachers played the predators.

“It was lovely. Children always love seeing their teachers being silly, acting,” she said.

Their 93-year-old aunt also chimed in as the Mummy Monkey in Monkey Puzzle.

“It turned out to be quite a full-on occasion but Auntie Mary was great,” she said.

“She was joining in the words to all the songs. It was a lovely occasion because they invited her old secretary, Joan Paradine.

“They were reunited. I even brought Auntie Mary’s old teddy bear. It was a happy occasion.”

Mrs Hopkins was the head teacher for about 25 years.

“She was the one who actually started the lower primary department way back in 1961,” Mrs Donaldson said.

“She came out to Bermuda in ’59. Initially it was supposed to be for three years and she’s been here ever since.”

Although the author lives in England and her aunt in Bermuda, they have remained close.

“We’ve kept very close contact. She’d been coming to the UK every year. She’s not up to it any more, so we thought we’d come over.”

Mrs Donaldson partnered with The Bermuda Bookstore for the event. She and her husband, Malcolm, were on the island 11 years ago for the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, when they met the owner, Hannah Wilmott.

Primary 2 workshops followed the assembly on Tuesday. The children donned paper hats with Mrs Donaldson’s popular characters — from Stick Man to Zog — drawn on them, and sang The Gruffalo song.

The book is a staple in many a household, however, the author still finds it remarkable that so many know the words.

“It is amazing this globalisation really,” she said. “That people on the other side of the world know my books by heart.”

Worldwide book events are a large part of Mrs Donaldson’s life.

She and her husband were in India for a month across January and February. They will get through “25 performances every day in August” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

They regularly hold events in Steyning, Suffolk where they live.

“We have such a lovely local bookshop,” she said.

“About twice a term we go out to schools with them and do a similar thing, including my fiction titles.”

Of her huge catalogue of books, she said many readers do not know that she writes for older children as well. Signed copies can be ordered from The Steyning Bookshop through her website.

“You get the choice to buy from Amazon or to buy signed copies from my local bookshop,” she said. “It’s a good way to support them. They can offer something that Amazon can’t.”

One of her best trips was to South Africa.

“We always take the opportunity to take a holiday after we’ve done the book stuff,” she said.

“That gave me the idea for a book that’s just come out — The Ugly Five. Everybody knows the ‘big five’ — the lion, the leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and the buffalo.

“When we went on safari we discovered there were five animals known as the ugly five.” The 2017 book introduces the African savanna’s wildebeest, warthog, spotted hyena, lappet-faced vulture, and marabou stork.

“Sometimes the travel does inspire the story,” she said.

“Bermuda, I’ve been thinking about the kiskadee. I’ve been toying with the idea. I like the word — kis-ka-dee.

“It’s a good word. Lots of things rhyme with ‘ee’ ...”

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Published Apr 23, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 22, 2018 at 11:30 pm)

Children’s writer has monster appeal

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