Not all great literature demands tiny print and anomalous words, sometimes it can just be something as magical as a children’s tale aimed at toddlers. The story of a brave mouse, say, or a wooden man’s painful odyssey to get home to his family. You can probably see where this is going, and you’re probably right. Here are Julia Donaldson’s finest books, from the 10th best to the best best…
10. Tabby McTat
One of the lesser celebrated Donaldson’s, this finds a hapless hobo without his trusty cat, relegated to strumming his guitar alone in a hopeless world. Then guess who shows up from nowhere? SPOILER ALERT – it’s his trusty pussy, only now it’s got grey hair and kids.
9. The Ugly Five
The most recent Donaldson/Scheffler tome, and it’s not their best. It’s their ninth best! It celebrates the animals in the wild that are often considered hideous and grotesque next to their more notorious counterparts. Warthogs, wildebeest, vultures. That kind of thing.
8. The Scarecrow’s Wedding
In a world where romance between the thick is revered on reality shows, Scarecrow’s Wedding paints a far cuter picture of brainless love. He just wants the best for his flammable bride, so goes about creating a fairy tale ceremony.
7. The Snail and the Whale
There’s a long, distinguished line in big creature/little creature fables, in which the lesson is nearly always something like “the world is amazing” and “shouldn’t we all just get along?”. In this one, a snail learns precisely those lessons, but also gets to ride around on a whale’s back.
6. The Gruffalo’s Child
After the success of The Gruffalo, this was a sequel that was always going to happen, and it doesn’t disappoint. By now, the mouse from Volume One has become a monster of folklore, and Gruffalo Jr just isn’t having it. So she goes in search of the tiny Minotaur, battling through the snow. Feminism at work.
5. The Smartest Giant in Town
Another one that doesn’t get all the plaudits, but this is Donaldson/Scheffler playing all the right notes, as a sartorial giant attempts to rebrand his oafish species as snappy dressers. There’s a useful underlying message about selflessness and the importance of helping others.
4. A Squash and a Squeeze
In a serendipitous moment in the early 1990s, Julia Donaldson was approached about turning her 1970s children’s song A Squash and a Squeeze into a book. Without it, the rest of these would never have happened. True story, and essentially why it scores so highly here.
3. Room on the Broom
A fun one to read with all of its whooshes, and hungry fire-breathing dragons. It also paints witches in a totally new light, as inclusive, kindly crones, willing to go out of their way to welcome outsiders into their homes. And to think we used to drown them.
2. Stick Man
Like all great odysseys, Stick Man is a hero battling the elements, swept away from the bosom of his family, fighting to stay alive, driven by the hope of one day being reunited with his wife and kids. It’s got it all – snow, swans, angry oceans, the real threat of incineration, and a dog behaving like a twat.
1. The Gruffalo
The world heavyweight champion of children’s books, The Gruffalo could be chanted verbatim in churches and at football matches. A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood, a fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good… (now try to stop)
Josh Burt is a freelance writer, who lives in South London with his wife Hannah, and his two children Gabriel and Vivienne. Over the last 20 years, he’s written for everyone from FHM to Grazia to The Times and The Telegraph, he’s had two so-so books published, and was once the online voice of Big Brother.