The Arabian Nights and The Work of Julia Donaldson


Shrinas’s son does this through a fairly simple trick, convincing the foreign king’s messenger that Wird Khan’s power is far greater than in reality – a classic military tactic. The modern literary parallel that springs immediately to my mind is the Mouse in The Gruffalo…

Throughout my reading of The Arabian Nights, I have often thought of the work of the British children’s author Julia Donaldson. Her books all seem to have “some element of surprise, shock, astonishment,” that ‘Borgesian quirkiness,’ that also imbues most of Shahrazad’s tales. Such a sensibility is not unique to Julia Donaldson, of course… but it is a trait that seems particularly strong in her œuvre. Indeed, the commonality even extends to many of the extremely short phonics books that she has written for children learning to read.

So there is the lateral thinking and cunning of the characters in The Gruffalo, The Room on the Broom, What The Ladybird Heard and A Squash and a Squeeze. There are the lucky coincidences of Jack and the Flumflum Tree and the poignant symmetries of The Paper Dolls or The Snail and the Whale. All these have the feel of The Arabian Nights about them.

And of course, the most egregious similarity of them all: Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book, which tells of a story within a story within a story within…

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