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‘The Gruffalo’ Illustrator Draws On His Experiences To Encourage Pilgrim Academy Children

 ‘The Gruffalo’ illustrator Axel Scheffler delivers a miniature book workshop to Year 3 and 4 children at Pilgrim Academy.

Internationally-acclaimed children’s illustrator Axel Scheffler thrilled pupils at Pilgrim Academy when he joined their class by video link to teach them how to make a miniature book.

The Zoom workshop was organised in conjunction with the British Library, for which German-born Axel has recently produced a brand new book, ‘Fipsy The Squirrel,’ who discovers how to make home-schooling fun. But it is the illustrations for Julia Donaldson children’s favourites, ‘The Gruffalo’ and ‘The Snail and The Whale,’ for which he is best known and which have enchanted children of all ages since the 1990s. 

As part of the workshop, the children learned about the evolution of ‘The Gruffalo.’ Axel explained: “I start by sketching. I obviously have a little more freedom when the character is a fantastic beast like the Gruffalo or aliens – but sometimes the author has already described the creature in the text and that limits my freedom.

“When drawing animals, obviously they have to be recognisable. So if, for example, I'm drawing a fox or a mouse, I look at reference pictures and transform the animal to my version. The sketches are discussed with the team at the publisher – the designer and the editor – and the author has to be happy as well, and then I can start creating the artwork.”

Axel encouraged the pupils to let their imaginations run wild in creating their own short stories in a miniature book, coming up with characters, a storyline, magic powers, adventures and emotions to bring the book to life.

He showed the children some books held by the British Library, which dated back 300 years, and also gave them a tour of Queen Mary’s Doll’s House made in the 1920s. It included working lifts, an electric car, a gramophone that played music and flushing toilets, along with a library of 600 miniature books from authors such as Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Peter Pan author, J.M. Barrie.

Year 3 and 4 children at Pilgrim Academy made their own miniature books and were excited to put their imaginations to the test as they came up with their own storylines.

Viktoria Parashkevova (9) said: “My book is called ‘The Adventurous Frog.’ I love frogs and this story involves mountains and skyscrapers and how the frog goes on a big adventure but eventually comes home to his animal friends.”

Halle Boswell (8) wanted to produce a story about marine life. “I want to be a marine biologist. I love marine life and my story is all about plastic pollution and climate change in the waters and how it is making the animals sad,” she explained. 

Grace Elliott (8) had a firm idea for her story about a dog who makes friends with a cow. “It is called ‘No Matter How Big, No Matter How Small',” she said.

Kayleigh Morley, Pilgrim Academy Vice Principal, said the workshop had really inspired the children to be creative in their writing.

“We read ‘The Gruffalo’ again today before the workshop and the children loved revisiting this book and they were so excited to see the man behind the pictures. 

“The event was also really inspirational in showing the children that they can aspire to do the things that Axel is doing and to know that from a young age he was drawing and doing all the things they are doing in school."

Halle Boswell (8) and Viktoria Parashkevova (9) with their miniature books made during a workshop with ‘The Gruffalo’ illustrator Axel Scheffler.

As part of the Zoom workshop, Pilgrim Academy children take a look at Queen Mary’s Doll’s House which dates back to the 1920s and is housed in the British Library. It contains its own library of 600 miniature books.

Inspired by the workshop, Pilgrim Academy pupil Grace Elliott (8) produces her own miniature book about a dog and a cow who become firm friends, entitled ‘No Matter How Big, No Matter How Small.’