Ben’s Adventures in Donaldsonland


Sometimes I find myself idly thinking about education and pedagogy and, you know, all that stuff, while reading, for the fifteenth time in a row, one of the works of Julia Donaldson.  Donaldson, in case you don’t know, is a genius, whose works have deservedly sold millions of copies and entertained millions of tiny people.

When you’ve got a tiny person living in your house and dominating the vast majority of your thoughts, it’s easy to get caught up in the world of picture books and find yourself blurring the lines between reality and what I’ve chosen to call Donaldsonland.  Like a red-eyed undergraduate realising that The Wizard of Oz is actually, like, totally an allegory for capitalism, man, I have found myself reading Donaldson’s oeuvre as a series of extended metaphors for educational issues.  Here then, are my top five Julia Donaldson books as extended metaphors for educational issues (SPOILER WARNING JUST IN CASE YOU’RE PLANNING TO READ THEM).

  1. Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book.

The premise: an intricate series of embedded narratives in which each page turn takes you further into a book within a book within a book.  We don’t actually get to read any of the stories in full though, so it’s ultimately quite disappointing unless you’re a one year old whose only real criterion for enjoying a book is being able to spot animals.

The metaphor: the National Curriculum is so bulging with content that we never get to dwell for long on anything, and there’s no depth to the learning OR the National Curriculum isn’t the problem and it’s the way it’s taught that creates the lack of depth – you decide, I’m staying out of it.

  1. Paper Dolls.

The premise: a girl makes paper dolls and they have adventures until a boy ruins them and then there’s an ending I can’t type without crying because it’s so beautiful DAMN YOU JULIA DONALDSON AND REBECCA COBB YOU PAIR OF EVIL GENIUSES.

The metaphor: no matter how much you adore your current cohort, and how many amazing adventures (you know, learning adventures) you have with them, a boy with scissors known as TIME will come along and forcefully separate you from them and leave you with next year’s class, who you’ll never bond with in the same way OR WILL YOU?

  1. Monkey Puzzle.


The premise: a monkey has lost his mum; a helpful butterfly tries to find her based on the descriptions given by the monkey, except the stupid butterfly only listens to the most recent clue (e.g. “A long and curly tail, why didn’t you say?” and then points to a snake.) The hilarious twist is that because her young are caterpillars, the butterfly didn’t realise that she should be looking for something that looks like a monkey.

The metaphor: SLTs – desperate to avoid a bad Ofsted – listen to and act on the latest piece of advice from consultants, SIPS, Mocksteds, EduFacebook etc, but only the latest and abandon everything else!  The hilarious twist is that the school goes through a chaotic period of forced academisation and the education of a generation of young people is compromised.

  1. Cave Baby.

The premise: a young boy in what I assume is the Upper Paleolithic (though there are, if we’re being harsh, some anachronisms) is discouraged from painting the walls of his cave by his grumpy parents.  Some mammoths come along and get him to paint their walls and he has a lovely old time.

The metaphor: it’s the prog-trad thing, isn’t it.  I mean, we possibly even have a suggestion of a solution to the whole debate – I’m sure someone else can do the nuts and bolts, I’m more a big ideas guy.

  1. The Gruffalo.

The premise: a mouse is just chilling in the woods.  A load of bigger animals come along and try to eat him, but he wards them off with big talk of a Gruffalo.  Then the actual Gruffalo appears, and the mouse avoids being eaten by taking him through the forest.  The animals are scared of the Gruffalo, who thinks they’re actually scared of that crafty little mouse, and the mouse survives.

The metaphor: I don’t really know at this point to be honest.  Maybe the Gruffalo is Ofsted and the mouse is a clever head who knows how to “game” an inspection.  I don’t know.  I needed five: you can’t have a top four can you?

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