Julia Donaldson, MBE, doesn’t rest on her laurels. The award-winning children’s book writer has written over 184 works, including The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Stick Man. This year alone Julia published The Scarecrows Wedding, The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat and The Flying Bath. Enthusiastic about the written word, we sat down with the 2011–2013 Children's Laureate to find out her thoughts on learning to read, loving books and why parents mustn’t forget about their local libraries.
Why is it essential to introduce books to your child from a young age?
It’s important to remember that literacy is all about enjoyment. With reading, you can immerse yourself in new worlds and in stories which capture your imagination. Sharing a book with mum, dad, granny, granddad or anyone really, is a bonding experience, it’s fun, and it’s educational too. Enjoy having that closeness, sit with your child, give them your full attention and have fun diving into a story together. If your child has a short attention span or is wriggly, then opt for short books with things to engage them. You don't want to put them off or take the fun out of reading. Also don't get caught up thinking your child 'ought' to be at a certain level or able to read a particular book.
Why are you such a fan of picture books?
Picture books really are a versatile form of literature and they help the story to come alive for the child who is reading it. I am particularly proud of my collaboration Nick Sharatt – his illustration style is so bold and full of lovely, bright colours and obvious shapes, so there's lots to visually engage little readers. For pre-schoolers, it's important they start learning to read with books that have only a few easy to understand words on a page. This helps it to be easily digestible and more memorable, especially if there's a simple rhyme scheme within the book.
Is that why you often choose to write your books in a rhyming metre?
Yes - children absorb rhythmic words surprisingly quickly and easily and they enjoy being able to know what comes next. Poetry is very beneficial to help with literacy, as often poems have a very clear rhyme scheme (internal and ending rhymes) and the musicality appeals to children. It was incredibly fun to write a follow up to Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat because it has such an interesting and complex rhyme scheme. It’s an enduring poem that was first published in 1871 and it’s still popular today. I just hope that readers enjoy my The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat as much as I’ve enjoyed Edward’s poem over the years.
You most recently wrote The Scarecrow’s Wedding. How do you come up with your ideas?
Children love nonsense and silly things and they also love to laugh. The Scarecrow’s Wedding follows the tale of two scarecrows, Betty O'Barley and Harry O'Hay, who are in love and are planning the perfect wedding, which almost gets ruined by wicked scarecrow Reginald Rake. It was great fun to write and I hope it is to read.
How would you encourage children to fall in love with books and reading?
Children who are read to frequently can often recite their favourite stories and this is a great tool which is not only beneficial to their literacy skills, but it also expands the language they use and their gives their brain and memory a work out. When they do start learning to read, let your child get their favourite books from the bookshelf, even if they know it off by heart because they can then decode the written words and match the aural word to its written form. That's a great tool when learning to read. Take your child to the library - make books fun and give them the opportunity to try different books out, so they can find out which ones they like. There are so many to choose from and it's such a great resource for pre-school literacy which people often forget about.
The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Charlotte Voake is out on Book and CD on 2 October £7.99 (Puffin)