'I'm partial to warthogs!': The Gruffalo creators on their new book The Ugly Five

Published on: 06 September 2017 Author: Anna McKerrow

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are children's book legends after working on The Gruffalo together, and their new book The Ugly Five is sure to be just as much of a treat.

They told us about the inspiration for the book, how they work together, and which of the animals are their favourites...

The Ugly Five cover

We really love The Ugly Five; it's a joy to discover another picture book with Julia's fantastic rhyming text and Axel's characterful illustrations. What inspired you to write it?

Julia: 'Last year, I enjoyed a safari at the end of my book tour in South Africa. When we spotted a herd of wildebeest, my husband remarked that they looked quite noble, to which our ranger replied, "Actually, Malcolm, I hate to tell you this but the wildebeest is one of the Ugly Five." Immediately I wanted to know more and he told us the names of the other four ugly animals. Within very little time, I knew what the story would be (a very rare event!)'

How do you work together? What has been the process of making The Ugly Five?

Axel: 'We work completely separately. Julia writes the text and sends it to the publisher - they pass it on to me and I develop the characters and sketch out the story. At this stage, all communication between us goes through the publisher. We come together for events and have just come back from Edinburgh International Book Festival where we did a show to launch The Ugly Five.'
Julia: 'After I write a text, I am always excited to see how Axel will bring it to life in pictures.'

The Ugly Five has a lovely message about loving each other despite appearances as well as wildlife conservation. Do you each have a favourite animal from The Ugly Five – if so, what is it about that animal you love?

Axel: 'I saw some Marabou storks in the zoos of Frankfurt and Paris – they would be my favourite. They look very graceful, thoughtful and melancholic and I like that in a bird. (I don't think I managed to convey this!)'
Julia: 'I've always been partial to warthogs and perhaps that is because of the funny (and quite touching!) Flanders and Swann song about a warthog who goes to a ball.'

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Julia, your rhyming texts always roll off the reader's tongue so expertly. How do you create such good rhyming texts in your picture books?

Julia: 'I think my background in song-writing helps with my rhyming text. My husband Malcolm and I used to go busking together before we married. We performed in folk clubs with "grown-up" songs I wrote about subjects as varied as snails and tattoos. Singing and song-writing for children's television became my career and one of my songs, 'A Squash and a Squeeze', was made into a book in 1993, with illustrations by Axel.'

Axel, you always manage to give the animals in your books fantastic expressions! What are your favourite and least favourite animals to draw and why?

Axel: 'I usually prefer to draw small animals like rodents... I find cows very difficult! But my animals are never very naturalistic or anatomically correct - I make them into my own kind of animal.'

Finally, as experts in the art of making reading fun, can you recommend your favourite book which kids are guaranteed to love?

Axel: 'I recently read Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis - that's a very touching animal story that I enjoyed reading to my daughter . We also liked The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly - another wonderful book for nature lovers.'
Julia: 'I would whole-heartedly recommend Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury. Funny and wise with lovely illustrations, these fables are loved by myself, my children and grandchildren.'

The Ugly Five, the new picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, is out now (published by Alison Green Books) and A World Inside a Book: The Gruffalo, Dragons and other Creatures exhibition opens on 21 October: www.discover.org.uk

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with BookTrust by signing up to one of our newsletters and receiving great articles, competitions and updates straight to your inbox.

Join us