In this blog post, you will discover our list of the best Julia Donaldson books and also, if this is your first time hearing about this author, a few details about her and the reasons why Julia Donaldson’s books are perfect for children aged 3 to 7.
When thinking of children’s authors, Julia Donaldson is hands down one of the most popular and loved writers. Her rhyming stories are absolutely delightful, the perfect type of books to introduce to young children either as first readers or as bedtime stories. Many of her stories contain repetition and rhyming which are known to have great benefits in:
– teaching children how language works,
– building their vocabulary,
– improving memory,
– developing their imagination (Julia Donaldson is known for the fantastic characters and worlds that she creates)
– making predictions (they learn to anticipate the rhyming word)
Who is Julia Donaldson?
Julia Donaldson is a very prolific English writer with over 184 published works (64 of these are widely available to the public, the rest are intended for school use). She is also a successful playwright with 46 published plays.
In her youth, J.D worked for a few publishers, at a local radio station and even taught English in a secondary school. In addition to all this, she also sang in folk clubs with her husband, Malcolm. She got the chance to write children’s songs for BBC and it was the words to one of these songs, “A Squash and a Squeeze”, that was made into a book with illustrations by Axel Scheffler.
This was the beginning of a wonderful collaboration between Donaldson and Scheffler with over 20 published books together.
Julia’s big breakthrough came in 1999 when she published “The Gruffalo“, also illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Since then her popularity has grown, with Julia Donaldson becoming Children’s Laureate for 2 years in a row (2011-2013) and also receiving a CBE for outstanding services to literature.
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Why are Julia Donaldson’s books perfect for little children?
My son was about 2 and a half when we first discovered Julia Donaldson and her wonderful books. Our first book was ‘The Gruffalo‘ and I was overjoyed to see that my little boy was hooked and asked to read it to him over and over again. 2 and a half years later, we have our own little collection of Julia Donaldson books.
It is the same with my daughter. She’s only 1 year old now but she loves the colourful, quirky images in the books. She still doesn’t have the necessary level of focus to sit still for me to read a book from beginning to end but I am glad that she shows interest in books, especially Julia Donaldson’s books (she is more likely to pick one of her books from a pile).
So, why are her books so popular not only with my kids but with children around the world?
One of the elements that make J.D’s books so attractive for children is definitely the colourful, engaging illustrations. They provide instant visual stimulation and information about the characters and storyline.
Many of J.D’s books are written in rhyme. I’ve mentioned above the cognitive benefits that rhyme has on children. From a child’s perspective, it makes the story so much easier to remember. My son loves reciting chunks from ‘Room on the Broom’, ‘The Gruffalo’ or ‘The Smeds and the Smoos’.
Another thing that can be found in her books is lots of repetition. This helps kids, like with rhyming, remember parts of the story which means that their vocabulary is enriched with new words and various sentence structures that perhaps they wouldn’t encounter in their day-to-day exchanges.
Julia Donaldson’s books stand out because of the wonderful worlds and quirky characters that she creates. Take for example, ‘the far-off planet’ where the funny-looking Smeds and Smoos live with the lobular lake and jerberrycoot fruits.
Our Best Julia Donaldson Books
Most of her books are wonderful but we thought we’d make a top 10 best Julia Donaldson books with the stories that our children enjoyed the most. Here they are:
1. The Gruffalo
The book that propelled Donaldson to fame tells the story of a quick-witted mouse who manages to outsmart a fox, an owl and a snake who were getting ready to eat him by telling them that he’s meeting a scary creature called Gruffalo.
As the animals run away in fear, the mouse giggles as he knew that the Gruffalo was only a figment of his imagination. That is until he meets an actual Gruffalo who decides that the mouse would make a great snack. How is the clever mouse going to get out of this predicament? Read the story and find out.
“But who is this creature with terrible claws
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws?
He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes
And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.
His eyes are orange, his tongue is black;
He has purple prickles all over his back.”The Gruffalo
What we loved about the story: My son enjoyed the way the shrewd little mouse managed to trick the forest animals. Above all, he liked the way The Gruffalo looked (he likes scary stuff…). Another thing that we loved was reading the story with different voices. Each character had a different voice and accent which brought about many giggles.
Considering that the Gruffalo is not a very handsome chap, it is up to you to decide whether this character might be too scary for your child or not.
If you loved The Gruffalo, you are going to adore The Gruffalo’s Child. As the title suggests, the story is about the Gruffalo’s inquisitive child who is very curious about the legendary Big Bad Mouse. One stormy night, after the Gruffalo tells him the story of the formidable mouse, the Gruffalo’s Child decides to sneak out of their cave and go look for him.
On his adventure, he encounters the fox, the owl and the snake who reinforce the idea of the scary Mouse. Finally, the Gruffalo’s Child meets a little, harmless mouse and he decides to have him as a midnight feast. How will the clever mouse escape this time?
“But here comes alittle one, out of his house!
Not big, not bad, but a mouse at least-
you’ll taste good as a midnight feast.!The Gruffalo’s Child
What we loved about the story: Well, again, my son loved the scary Gruffalo and adored the cute baby Gruffalo and her puppet stick. There were also some familiar characters such as the fox, the owl and the snake that we encountered in the previous story. Like with The Gruffalo, the rhymes are catchy and easy to learn. It took only 2-3 readings for my son to recite parts of the story. And lastly, we were once again impressed with the little Mouse’s ingenuity.
A marvellous story and one of my boy’s favourites, “Room on the Broom” introduces us to a kind-hearted witch and her cat. As they fly around, the witch loses various items like her hat, her bow and her wand.
She is helped by a dog, a bird and a frog to recover her items, all asking the witch if they could ride with her on the broom. The witch agrees and they cheerfully fly until disaster strikes and the broom breaks. To make matters worse, a terrible hungry creature has its eyes on the poor witch. What will happen next?
“The witch had a cat
and a hat that was black,
And long ginger hair
in a braid down her back.
How the cat purred
and how the witch grinned,
As they sat on their broomstick
and flew through the wind.Room on the Broom
What we loved about the story: It was funny to see how the slightly clumsy witch kept dropping her things. But the thing I liked the most and what I emphasized to my son is that kindness breeds kindness. The witch accepted the dog, the bird and the frog on her broom, and the animals, in turn, did everything they could to rescue the witch. Also, true friendship is a powerful bond.
As with all the books, the illustrations are magnificent.
An epic story that has protagonists a tiny snail who had a burning desire to sail the world and discover its wonders and an immense whale who takes the tiny snail on a great adventure around the world.
They discover towering icebergs, volcanoes and golden sands, mysterious caves and they experience frightening storms. The huge world makes the snail realize how small she is.
But when the whale gets in trouble, the snail learns that even the smallest creatures can make a big difference when determined to do so.
And she gazed at the sky, the sea, the land,
The waves and the caves and the golden sand,
She gazed and gazed, amazed by it all,
And she said to the whale, “I feel so small.”The Snail and the Whale
What we loved about the story: If I had to choose a favourite book from Julia Donaldson, I think this would be it. I find it so endearing and full of important lessons such as, if you have a dream like the little snail did, find a way of achieving it, even if the ones around you are discouraging.
Have the courage to be different, simply be yourself. In the story, all the other snails live their lives on the black rock not even considering something different. The little snail, however, was the only one with an “itchy foot”.
Another wonderful lesson is that no matter how small you are, you can still make a difference if you put your mind to it.
I also like the bond that was formed between two very different creatures.
Travelling and exploring expand one’s horizon.
And lastly, your actions may inspire others to do great things. The little snail’s boldness inspired the other snails to go and explore the world.
The story takes place on a “far-off planet” where the Smeds, (red creatures who loved splashing about in a lake, drinking pink milk and eating brown bread), and the Smoos (blue creatures who loved jumping about on their hill, drinking black tea and eating green stew) lived.
For some reason, the Smeds and the Smoos didn’t get along at all and avoided each other at all costs. That is until Jane, a little Smed, and Bill, a little Smoo, decide to be friends and later on, when they grow up, to marry. Their decision is met with indignation and fury from their families. What will Jane and Bill do?
Bill, like the other Smoos, was blue,
And these were the words of Grandmother Smoo:
“Never,never play with the Smeds.
They have strange hair upon theor heads.
They sleep in funny things called beds.
Never, never play with the Smeds.”The Smeds and the Smoos
What we loved about the story: In my opinion, this is the book where Julia Donaldson’s imagination shines the brightest with many made-up words like loobular, humplety, Wurpular Wood, trocklets, glompoms, jerberrycoot, Planet Vumjum, Lurglestrop etc, and of course, all the funny characters beginning with the Smeds and the Smoos and the inhabitants of the other planets, the Vums, the beasts with small eyes and long noses who watered roses all day, the slimy creatures on Planet Glurch, the Scloopies and the Klabs.
Reading all these comical words and seeing the hilarious images brought about some giggles. But what I most enjoyed about this book is that I got to open the subject of acceptance and tolerance towards people who are different with my little one. In a world where bullying and intolerance are still a problem, I think that this is a great book to read to young children.
6. Tabby McTat
Fred, a busker, and his cat, Tabby McTat, lead a content life singing “of this and that”. One morning, while Fred was eating a sandwich, Tabby wonders off and meets a gorgeous, green-eyed cat called Sock. Unbeknown to McTat, while he was chatting to Sock, a thief tries to steal Fred’s hat full of coins. Fred chases the thief but falls and bumps his head ending up in the hospital for a few days. Poor McTat believes that the busker has left him but as luck would have it, he gets adopted by Sock’s family.
Even though Tabby McTat loves his new family with his full routine, his wife and 3 kittens, he can’t stop thinking of Fred and what has happened to him. One day, he decides to go find him. After a few days, McTat hears a familiar voice singing and is overjoyed to see Fred. Is Tabby McTat going to stay with Fred or return to his family? Read the story and find out.
Tabby McTat was a busker’s cat
With a miaow that was loud and strong.
The of them sang of this and that,
And people threw coins in the old checked hatTabby McTat
What we loved about the story: My son loved that we got to sing Fred and McTat’s favourite song, trying to imitate the cat’s loud and strong miaow. You can only imagine the result :))
Another thing that we liked about the story was that it has quite a few breath-holding moments (you know…for a children’s story) like when the thief steals Fred’s hat, when McTat is left all alone or when McTat goes looking for the busker.
We also enjoyed the ending but I am not going to give any spoilers.
This is a somewhat atypical story from the ones that Julia Donaldson delights us with. Nonetheless, it is a great book. Basically, it is a story within a story.
It begins with Charlie Cook, a little boy who loved curling up in his cosy chair and reading his favourite book about a pirate who finds a treasure chest. In the treasure chest, there was a book about a girl called Goldilocks who eats the bears’ porridge, sits on their chairs (you know the story) and after that, lies on the bed reading baby bear’s book about a brave knight who tells the fierce dragon a joke that he’s read in his favourite book about a frog…I think you get the idea of how this storybook works. The book starts with Charlie and circles around ending with Charlie.
Once upon a time there was a boy
called Charlie Cook
Who curled up in a cozy chair
and read his favourite book…Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book
What we loved about the story: We loved the fact that it has so many characters, pirates, thieves, Goldilocks and the bears, knights and dragons, even Queen Elizabeth II makes an appearance. I have to say that it is a hilarious book to read and my little boy loves it.
However, before buying this book, it is good to know that “Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book” hasn’t got the traditional storyline that we are used to. It is a mini-story within a mini-story. To be honest, when I got the book I wasn’t sure whether my son would like it or not. I took a bit of a gamble but my son absolutely loved it.
8. Stick man
Stick man, his lovely Stick wife and their adorable stick children live a blissful life in their family tree. One early morning, Stickman decides to go for a jog. Little did he know that the decision will lead to an epic adventure that will take him away from his family for some time. In the end, an unlikely character helps Stick Man get back to his beloved family.
Stick man lives in the family tree
with his stick lady love
And their stick children threeStick Man
What we loved about the story: It is a brilliant story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Just when you think that poor Stick Man’s luck has changed and he’s about to find his way back home, something else happens that pushes him further away from the family tree.
We loved that as the story progresses we got to share the characters’ feelings: happiness, sadness, disappointment and surprise.
The illustrations are absolutely delightful, like all those created by Axel Scheffler.
In Madame Dragon’s school for dragons, Zog is her most enthusiastic student but also her clumsiest. Zog’s ultimate goal is to win a golden star. However, as hard as he may try, the coveted gold stars go to his dragon colleagues. This doesn’t discourage Zog and he diligently practices each new skill that Madame Dragon teaches them (flying, roaring and breathing fire). On one of these occasions, Zog meets a friendly girl called, Pearl and they become friends.
One day, as Pearl helps Zog with one of his skills, a knight comes to save her. Will Zog defeat the knight and will he finally earn a gold star?
“Madame Dragon ran a school many moons ago
She taught young dragons all the things that dragons need to know.
Zog, the biggest dragon, was the keenest one by far
Trying his hardest everyday to win a golden star.”Zog
What we loved about the story: This is definitely one of our favourite stories from Julia Donaldson. My son loves dragons and dinosaurs so you can imagine the appeal of the story for him. But besides the cute little dragons, my boy also adored the storyline, he giggled every time Zog did something clumsy and held his breath when he fought with the knight.
We also loved Pearl, her close friendship with Zog, the way they helped each other and the fact that she didn’t want to conform to the path that others had lain for her (they wanted her to behave like a princess, she wanted to be a doctor). It was an inspiration to see that she followed her dream.
10. Monkey Puzzle
Poor little monkey has lost his mom and is all alone in the jungle. A helpful, kind butterfly is keen to help the monkey reunite with his mom but misunderstands the monkey’s description and keeps leading him to the wrong animals: an elephant, a snake, a spider and so on.
Finally, the monkey gives the butterfly a detail that leads him back to his family.
“No, no, no! That’s an elephant.
My mum isn’t a great grey hunk.
She hasn’t got tasks or a curly trunk.
She doesn’t have great thick baggy knees.
And anyway, her tail coils round trees.”Monkey Puzzle
What we loved about the story: This was an instant favourite and I remember that after we bought the book my son asked me to read it to him several times in a row. This went on for a few days until both of us could recite the story :)). The story is short enough to be read to young children with shorter attention spans, or, like in our case, twice or three times in a row, but long enough to have an engaging storyline.
My son found it funny how the butterfly kept leading the monkey to the wrong animal and, of course, loved the vibrant illustrations.
As with all of Julia Donaldson’s, the creative rhymes and repetition are absolutely fabulous. We also appreciated that Monkey Puzzle (like most of the other books) have important lessons to be learnt. In this case, it is vital to communicate clearly in order to avoid misunderstandings. Another important message is that not all babies look like their parents (think about adoptive children or interracial families).
It is safe to say that all of her books are marvellous and I confess that while making this best Julia Donaldson books list I struggled to limit it to just 10. These are the ones that we loved the most, however, I would also mention The Highway Rat, The Spiffiest Giant in Town, A Squash and a Squeeze, Superworm, What the Ladybird Heard, and The Scarecrows’ Wedding. They are fantastic as well.
If you are part of the What Does Mamma Say community (if not, what are you waiting for :D) you know that we wholeheartedly encourage reading to kids from an early age. The benefits are immense- you can read more about the importance of reading to children here. We have a whole category on the blog with book recommendations that we encourage you to browse.
In my opinion, these are the best books by Julia Donaldson. What are your favourite books by the author? Would you add or remove something from the list?
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Mom of two wonderful children, dedicated teacher and book lover.