by: Mr. Bee
Julia Donaldson is the new Dr. Suess. Crazy talk? Maybe so… but I think she is incredibly talented, and Charlie loves all of her children’s books. More so than he likes Dr. Suess books, actually.
What makes her books so great? She is one of the few authors who uses meter in her prose… mostly iambic pentameter (like a Shakespearean sonnet). But she uses the meter so effortlessly that you don’t really get hung up on it. Here’s an example:
A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.
A fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.
“Where are you going to, little brown mouse?
Come and have lunch in my underground house.”
“It’s terribly kind of you, Fox, but no –
I’m going to have lunch with a gruffalo.”
“A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?”
“A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know?
He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.”
“Where are you meeting him?”
“Here, by these rocks,
And his favourite food is roasted fox.”
“Roasted fox! I’m off!” Fox said.
“Goodbye, little mouse,” and away he sped.
“Silly old Fox! Doesn’t he know,
There’s no such thing as a gruffalo?”
Julia isn’t religious about using meter… as she said in an interview, “I am more strict about the musical rhythm than about a strict meter such as iambic pentameters.” She uses meter more as a songwriter, which she used to be. Dr. Seuss also used meter, mostly in this form: da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM. Here’s an example from Yertle the Turtle:
And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
Poetic meter was tremendously important for bards of the oral tradition, which is a fancy way of describing people who couldn’t read and needed an easy way to help remember stories. Poetic meter helped Homer remember long epic poems even though he most probably couldn’t read. That’s probably why Charlie loves Julia Donaldson’s books… he can’t read either!
Charlie literally loves every single book written by Julia Donaldson (all of which are illustrated by the equally talented Axel Scheffler)… and he loves every film adaptation of her books as well! Here’s a guide to Julia Donaldson’s greatest hits:
The Gruffalo (book)
Mrs. Bee discovered this book while talking to one of Charlie’s friends at daycare. He was soooo into “The Gruffalo” that she ordered the book from Amazon. We read it to Charlie and he loved it! Well, at first he was a bit scared of the Gruffalo… but he soon was begging for us to read him the book every day.
Short version: it’s a story of brains over brawn. A little mouse is almost eaten by a fox, an owl and a snake, and he scares each of them off by inventing a fake monster called a Gruffalo. Then to his shock, he encounters a real life Gruffalo! Then he has to trick the Gruffalo into not eating him. It’s so clever that even after reading it a few hundred times, I am still amazed at how smart Julia must be to have thought of the plot in the first place.
The Gruffalo (BBC film)
The BBC adapted the Gruffalo book to a beautiful 27 minute film… it’s truly a work of art! Here are the first few minutes of the film (complete with the wonderful soundtrack and voice work):
The narration is by Helena Bonham Carter, and she does such an amazing job! She’s joined by Robbie Coltrane, John Hurt, Rob Brydon, James Corden and Tom Wilkinson. Such talented voice work.
Charlie doesn’t get much screentime these days, but if he’s gonna get screentime… I love the idea of him watching this great BBC short. The Daily Mirror called it, “a family classic for years to come” and I agree. You can donwload it on itunes here.
The Gruffalo’s Child (book)
“The Gruffalo’s Child” is the sequel to the Gruffalo. In my opinion, it is not as good as the Gruffalo but is still definitely worth reading. In Charlie’s opinion though, it is much better than the Gruffalo. He asks for this book over and over, more than any of Julia Donaldson’s other books!
The Gruffalo’s Child (BBC film)
The Gruffalo’s Child movie has all the same amazing voice talent as The Gruffalo, but also adds Shirley Henderson as the Gruffalo’s Child (aka Moaning Myryle from the Harry Potter series!).
Here’s the trailer, which I honestly think isn’t nearly as good as the movie itself (the music in the trailer is a bit annoying, IMO):
Charlie loves this movie, and so does Olive too actually! (Although she’s only one year old, and may be a slightly less discerning audience.) You can download it on itunes here.
After seeing how Charlie responded to the Gruffalo books, we ordered “Room on the Broom.”
I can tell if Charlie loves a book based on two criteria: 1) he requests it frequently and 2) he memorizes it very quickly. On both of those metrics, Charlie adores this book.
“Room on the Broom” about a witch who keeps dropping items (her hat, her wand, and a hair bow)… which are then found by various animals that she meets (a cat, a dog and a frog). Then she makes “room on the broom” for the animals to fly with her! Eventually the animals save her from a dragon… and oh my, does Charlie ever love the dragon! He talks about the dragon all of the time, and asks to see pictures of the dragon frequently too.
This book is wonderful, and I recommend it to all parents of kids 2 1/2 years old or so. It is probably the #1 book in Charlie’s rotation right now!
Charlie may love “The Snail and the Whale” because he is a Sagittarius and he loves travel?
Or maybe he just loves the story line! It’s about a snail who hitches a ride on a whale and travels all over the world. Charlie loves reading “The Snail On The Whale” and asks for it frequently! In my opinion, it’s not as good as her other books… but then again, my opinion is less important than Charlie’s; he puts this book up there with Julia Donaldson’s greatest works.
I really love Julia Donaldson’s books and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations! They are a joy to read… to my surprise, I enjoy reading them out loud more than I enjoy Dr. Seuss’ books. While both authors use lots of poetic meter, Julia’s books tend to have better plots. Sorry, Dr. Seuss! I will always love you, but I think your books are better suited to pre-schoolers than to toddlers like Charlie.
Any fans out there of “The Gruffalo” and other Julia Donaldson books and related movies?