Belfast Telegraph

How the Gruffalo strolled into my daughter's life and brought her to book

By Claire Harrison

When my three-year-old daughter ordered "scrambled snake" for breakfast in a cafe, I could tell by the puzzled look on the waiter's face that he had never read The Gruffalo. So presumably he'd never served owl ice cream or roasted fox either.

If you were to do a public survey asking for names of most popular British authors of all time, I'm not sure the name of Julia Donaldson – the woman who invented these interesting menu choices – would be given its rightful place.

In terms of colossal sales, Donaldson is up there with the likes of JK Rowling, Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter. The English writer has produced 160 books, many of them modern classics and many outselling the most popular adult fiction writers by millions. Yet, outside the world of pre-school literature, she has largely avoided becoming a household name. Inside, well, she's quite simply a world famous rock star.

I decided to ask a few friends, some with children and some not, to name some best selling authors and Donaldson's name didn't come up once. When asked: 'What about Julia Donaldson?', again the recognition was a bit vague. Bells only clanged when asked: 'What about The Gruffalo?'

I had never heard of Donaldson either until the Gruffalo wandered into my life, following a chatty Little Brown Mouse, about two years ago when I first watched the BBC's beautiful television adaptation with my daughter. So we bought the book – and discovered there were oodles more written by Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. So we bought those too, and now we have the full collection – all well-thumbed with lines learned by heart that are regularly incorporated into our conversations ('Silly old mummy, doesn't she know?' is a favourite when I do something daft.)

The Gruffalo is written to be performed dramatically and the joy we have both got from sharing it has been immense. We're also madly in love with its sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, so we dashed to the stage show when it recently came to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. When the Little Brown Mouse left the stage and came out into the audience to ask Katie if she had any cheese, it was the small child equivalent of being asked on stage to sing with the Rolling Stones.

This week we bought the latest Donaldson book, The Scarecrows' Wedding, and I was as excited about cracking its spine as Katie was.

It's another lovely book, with brilliant rhymes and characters, funny pictures and even a debonair bad guy. But our favourite bit is always searching for a hidden Gruffalo which features somewhere small, but amusing, in Scheffler's drawings. In Tiddler, it's the Gruffalo fish. In the Highway Rat, there are Gruffalo cookies in the bakery. I won't tell you where he's hidden in the new one but suffice to say Katie was squealing "There's the Gruffalo!" by the end. It's a clever way of establishing a link in the mind of child between a new book and an old favourite.

Donaldson has steadfastly refused to allow her titles to be published as ebooks, meaning any child who wants to enjoy her stories has to feel the paper in their hands.

She may not be a household name, but this is a woman who boasts millions of adoring fans all over the world – little fans who have very discerning taste and simply aren't programmed to pretend they like a book when they don't. In an era of gadgets and short attention spans, she has taught youngsters the absolute joy of opening a good book and getting lost in a wonderful fantasy world.

A whole new stage for Fall star Gillian

Does Gillian Anderson ever take a break? Belfast's favourite serial killer hunter has only just wrapped filming her second series of BBC thriller The Fall.

No sooner is that out of the way, than she pops up on stage in London, earning rave reviews playing Blanche DuBois in a Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

The critics are tripping over their notebooks to praise a career-defining performance. One member of the audience was heard declaring the turn "stellar".

Hopefully Gillian didn't think that was someone from Belfast shouting out the name of her Fall character, DCI Gibson.

Will new Moons have their cake and eat it?

So all is well in the world of Kat and Alfie Moon who, in a direct contravention of EastEnders rules, are about to get something of a happy ending.

Soap fans will see the long-running couple welcome twins Bert and Ernie into their family this week. Yep, that's right. They have named their two beautiful bundles of joy after famous Sesame Street characters.

They've had a turbulent relationship, a tough pregnancy and a sudden labour – but Kat and Alfie will look every inch the doting parents when viewers see their twins come along.

Here's hoping the harmonious family ending lasts – and that the Moons don't have any trouble finding a baker willing to make a Bert and Ernie cake when their first birthday comes along.

Belfast Telegraph

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