The Gruffalo illustrator

I've created  a monster!

When it comes to celebrated children's books you don't get much bigger than The Gruffalo but its illustrator Axel Scheffer is a reluctant star.

Famed children's book illustrator Axel Scheffer has mixed feelings about being in the limelight. "It makes me quite dizzy to think how many children are reading The Gruffalo."

Like most illustrators I'm quite happy just to be at my desk doing my work," he says. Yet he feels a duty to meet his young readers and be an inspiration for them, even though he's not a natural performer like The Gruffalo's author Julia Donaldson.

"It's our duty to go out and meet the children but I find it daunting."

The Gruffalo has sold more than four million copies worldwide and inspired a musical (recently on tour in New Zealand) and an animated film. Along with other titles it's ensured an almost permanent spot at the top of the best-seller charts for the successful pair.

Axel Scheffer has branched out on his own with a new series on the trials of being a toddler, partly inspired by having a preschooler in the house. 

Issue 15Gruffalo1Two Pip and Posy books, The Little Puddle and The Super Scooter (Nosy Crow, $24.99 each), were released earlier this year and Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster is due out in November. They're simple stories that Axel developed with his editor at Nosy Crow publishers. They draw on preschooler issues, such as forgetting to go to the toilet because you're too busy playing, and then suddenly there's a puddle on the floor…

German-born Axel was 50 when his daughter Adelie, now four, was born and he admits she's a big distraction as he works at home in London, ploughing through a heavy load as a much-in-demand illustrator. Yet at the same time, Adelie is developing her own drawing.

"I find it really exciting. She's started drawing figures and doing her letters," he says. It's a proud moment for any dad but then not many girls have a father who has won admiration from children all over the world for his quirky and endearing drawings. The success of The Gruffalo, released in 1999, took him by surprise.

"I didn't expect that at all. I thought it would be done and then forgotten like most other children's books," he says.

Yet this book and its sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, are still generating work. He's currently illustrating a touch-and-feel version and a third songbook.

So is Adelie a Gruffalo fan? She prefers another Donaldson/Scheffer classic, Room on the Broom, as she's keen on anything witchy. Adelie, who occasionally accompanies her dad to book-signings, must wonder as she sees long queues of children keen to meet her dad.

Axel has been working with Julia since 1993 but the pair rarely meets as the author lives in Scotland. She writes her stories independently and then the text is sent to Axel for illustration. His sole ambition now is to slow down and reduce his workload - a big ask when publishers are clamouring for his work. "I'm in a very privileged position," he says.



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