Meet the authors: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler - The Ugly Five

The Ugly Five book

Introducing the new picture book by The Gruffalo creators – which celebrates the 'uglier' side of African wildlife. Find out more about the brains behind this book and so many others below.

About the book (3+)

“We're the ugly five, we're the ugly five.
Everyone flees when they see us arrive.”

Meet Wildebeest and Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Lappet-Faced Vulture and Marabou Stork. People call them the Ugly Five – but are they really?

On safari, Julia Donaldson was introduced to the admired 'Big Five': Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo. However, she was more intrigued by the 'Ugly Five' and made them the stars of her new story – brought to life by Axel Scheffler's pictures. In this unforgettable story, The Ugly Five rejoice in their 'ugliness', while their babies tell them they're perfect just the way they are.

The Ugly Five is out in hardback on 7 September, along with Zog and the Flying Doctors which releases in paperback.

Pre-order the book on Amazon now

Praise for Julia & Axel's books

“Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are the Lennon and McCartney of children’s publishing.” – Sunday Times

“Humour, heart and a worthy heroine earn this story its own star” – New York Times on Zog

“The energetic rhyme will keep the audience squirming with pleasure” – Observer on Superworm

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler books

About the authors

In 1993, Julia and Axel embarked on their acclaimed partnership when a song Julia had written for the BBC – 'A Squash and a Squeeze' – was turned into a picture book illustrated by Axel. The duo have gone on to become the UK's number one picture book pair with titles including The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man, Zog and Superworm – many which are now considered to be modern classics.

Many of Julia and Axel's picture books have also been adapted for the big and small screen, as well as the stage. These include Magic Light Pictures's award-winning animated films of The Gruffalo, The Gruffalo's Child, Room on the Broom and Stick Man. Look out for The Highway Rat – on television at Christmas time this year.

Both Julia and Axel enjoy international renown for their work. Julia was the UK Children's Laureate 2011-13 and honoured with an MBE for services to Literature. Axel's artwork is exhibited internationally; he has illustrated for many charities, and designed the Royal Mail Christmas stamps in 2012. You can find Julia on her website and Axel on his.

A World inside a Book – The Gruffalo, Dragons and other Creatures, an interactive exhibition of Julia and Axel's work, opens on 21 October at the Discover Children's Story Centre in Stratford. Find out more on the Discover website.

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Meet Julia and Axel

What are you reading now?

Julia: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Axel: Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (amongst others).

What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?

Axel: Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow (for my daughter, but we haven't read it yet).

Julia: I bought the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for my 7-year-old granddaughter.

Is research a big part of your writing or illustrating process?

Julia: It can be, and for The Ugly Five it was – I had to find out all I could about the wildebeest, the spotted hyena, the lappet-faced vulture, the warthog and the Marabou stork, in order to be able to write about them in verse.

Axel: Research is not usually a big part of my illustrating process, but I do sometimes look up animals before I draw them. For The Ugly Five, it was interesting to get to know the animals – for instance to see what a 'lappet-faced vulture' looks like and to bring it to life. However, mostly I just make things up!

I often solve niggling problems in whatever I'm writing – by wallowing in the bath.

Do you have any peculiar writing or illustrating rituals or habits?

Axel: Not any that I'm aware of…

Julia: I like wallowing in the bath, where I often solve niggling problems in whatever I'm writing. When I'm actually writing, I do a lot of doodling – I'm not sure if that helps or not!

What advice would you offer to aspiring writers or illustrators?

Julia: Endings are very important! Think about the ending before you start writing.

Axel: Just to draw a lot and to be curious about other illustrators' work. Or art in general. It's good to have a realistic idea whether you could succeed in making a living of it (if that is your wish).

Could you describe the room that you work in?

Axel: It's the top floor of a Victorian semi-detached house – with windows (not really big enough) on both sides of the room, lots of bookshelves, a drawing table covered with paints, inks, pencils… and lots of bits of paper everywhere! It's rather messy and chaotic – but I wish it wasn't.

Julia: I often write in my study, which is crammed with books and papers. It recently flooded which was very dramatic! Sometimes I write on trains or in the library. Many of my stories come into my head when I'm out for a walk.

It's great how 'The Ugly Five' really revel in their 'ugliness' and gang up and sing a song together.

Can you tell us about your new book, The Ugly Five?

Julia: I was inspired to write The Ugly Five when I was on a safari in South Africa. We saw a herd of wildebeest and my husband remarked that they looked quite noble, to which our ranger replied, “Actually, Malcolm, I hate to tell you this but the wildebeest is one of the Ugly Five.” I pricked up my ears as he told us the names of the other four ugly creatures, and almost immediately the whole story came into my mind – something that happens very rarely. The Ugly Five is about the so-called 'ugly' animals, but some of the more 'beautiful' African animals also appear. And – sorry about the spoiler – the very engaging babies of the Ugly Five also feature, and we find out that in their eyes their parents are perfect and not ugly at all.

Axel: It's great how 'The Ugly Five' really revel in their 'ugliness', gang up together and sing a song together. It was very enjoyable to illustrate all the creatures in The Ugly Five – not just the wonderful Ugly Five, but many others – from lions and elephants to lizards and meerkats. I hope children enjoy spotting them all.

Facebook Live

We're live on Facebook with Julia and Axel on Wednesday 6 September at 6pm, when Julia will be reading an extract from The Ugly Five and Axel will be drawing some of the animals from it. Post them a question – or which ugly animal you'd like Axel to draw – ahead of the discussion.

Book giveaway

We ask all winners to share their child's thoughts on the book. Everyone who posts their detailed feedback by midday, Monday 30 October will be entered into a prize draw to win a £100 Love2shop voucher.

This giveaway is sponsored by Scholastic Kids