Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s characters step up to help children through crisis

Who has terrible tusks and terrible claws, purple prickles all over his back – and always maintains a strict two-metre distance from others when outside his cave?

The answer, as any young child knows, is the Gruffalo, but not as you have ever seen him before.

‘Gruffalo stayed in the cave’: Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson’s coronavirus cartoons

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the creators of the beloved children’s storybook monster, have reimagined some of their best-known characters in the light of the coronavirus crisis, creating a series of images showing how Zog, Stick Man and others are coping with social distancing, home schooling and isolation.

The Gruffalo © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020
 The Gruffalo © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020

The series of 12 images, published in full exclusively in Saturday’s Guardian, include an updated version of Room on the Broom, one of their most popular books, in which the characters, rather than fighting for space on a broomstick, sit far apart. The dastardly Highway Rat, feared and loathed for stealing travellers’ food in their 2011 story, has turned to taking toilet paper at swordpoint from supermarket shoppers.Advertisement

And in a moving image updating A Squash and a Squeeze, the first book that the pair created together in 1993, the little old lady can’t take her animals into her house, but instead relies on them to buy her groceries while she self-isolates inside.

A Squash and a Squeeze © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020
 A Squash and a Squeeze © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020

In their almost two-decade partnership, during which they have created more than 20 books together, Donaldson and Scheffler have become some of the bestselling and most beloved authors in Britain, with a vast army of devoted young fans.

It was Scheffler, who illustrates the words written by Donaldson, who had the idea to update the characters in the hope of using his characters’ popularity for good, he told the Guardian. “I am not a nurse, I am not a doctor, and the situation is awful. And I thought, what can I do? As an illustrator, this is what I can do.”

Donaldson enthusiastically agreed, updating a number of rhymes, and Scheffler set to work at speed last week. “I just thought it would be a nice thing for children to see the characters who they know, relating to this situation that they don’t understand.

“It’s a little ‘hello’ from Julia and me, [to say] that we are there, and there will be another book, and there will be better times.”

Stick Man © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020
 Stick Man © Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020

Scheffler is also currently working on a non-fiction book about coronavirus for slightly older children, while Donaldson has launched a weekly online broadcast on the websites of her publishers Macmillan and Scholastic to entertain and support fans during the crisis.

“To everyone at home, we send our best wishes, and hope you keep well,” she said.

Credit: The Guardian