'Superworm' author Julia Donaldson on her wriggly hero who stars in the Christmas Day animation

Julia Donaldson is the author of Superworm which will be shown as a BBC1 animation on Christmas Day.
Julia Donaldson is the author of 'Superworm' which will be shown on BBC1. (Image credit: BBC/Magic Light Pictures)

Author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler's beloved children's book Superworm will be at the heart of the Christmas TV schedule for BBC1 this festive season. 

It will be the ninth time that Julia and Axel's stories have been adapted for the BBC and follows in the footsteps of their classic tales such as The Gruffalo and The Highway Rat. 

Narrated by Olivia Colman, the 30-minute animation, Superworm, sees the super-long and super-strong hero, (voiced by Doctor Who actor Matt Smith), get into peril when he's captured by wicked Wizard Lizard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith).

Actor Rob Brydon, who has voiced all of Julia's Christmas animations, stars as Crow, an accomplice of Wizard Lizard. 

We spoke to Julia Donaldson to learn about the inspiration behind her wriggly superhero, hear which of her stories has a special place in her heart, and find out whether she'll be tuning in on Christmas Day...

What was the inspiration for the story of 'Superworm'?

It was really because Axel is so good at drawing creepy crawlies and mini-beasts. He's done them in all our previous books but they're always in the background, never the main story. 

So, I thought why not make them the main characters and I also thought it would be fun to have superhero. That was the birth of Superworm! 

Matt Smith and Olivia Colman are among the actors doing the voices for Superworm. Are you a fan of theirs?

Olivia Colman has recorded some of my other things, she did Princess Mirror-Belle the audio version and those are actually going to be made into television series as well for CBBC. 

It's always lovely having all these people involved. In the past I've got to meet people like Dame Diane Rigg, and Martin Freeman who have had done voices for the animations. And I've met Rob Brydon, he plays the Crow in Superworm and he's been in every single animation we've done, which is lovely. 

Superworm and Butterfly are best friends in children's book Superworm.

Superworm is best friends with Butterfly (voiced by Patricia Allison). (Image credit: BBC/Magic Light Pictures)

What's it like seeing your books come to life in these Christmas Day animations? 

I'm used to it now but I was a little bit nervous at the start. When you think about how some cartoons have been done of children's books it could have been awful.   

I'm not really a fan of the Disney version of Winnie The Pooh but Magic Light Productions, who do the animations of our books, are so wonderful. It's why Axel and I chose them in the first place. They always consult us along the way and stay completely true to the books.  

Julia Donaldson stories have become a Christmas tradition now on the BBC. Do you sit and watch them yourself on Christmas Day? 

Yes, I do. We're going to be in Scotland this year where one of my sons lives with his family. The last time we were there, there were so many cousins and family members, and lots of little children, it was lovely but rather chaotic, just as Christmas should be. It's not like we all sit there quietly, watching together and listening, everyone is moving around and talking. 

Matt Smith is the voice of Superworm.

Former 'Doctor Who' actor, Matt Smith, is the voice of 'Superworm'. (Image credit: BBC)

That sounds like lots of households! Which of your stories do your grandchildren like best? 

I've got nine grandchildren who range in age from 0 to 11 and I would say Stick Man is probably the favorite. It's quite a Christmassy one because it covers all the seasons and ends up at Christmas. 

What's really lovely is, when the grandchildren come and stay with us we've got all the DVDs of the animations and they watch them over and over again. 

Which of your books is particularly special to you and why? 

It tends to be whichever one I’m working on. At the moment I’ve got a book out called The Christmas Pine. That particular story came about because last year I was invited to write a poem which would be wrapped around the  Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. 

I did some research and told the story of that tree's journey from being a little sapling in Norway to ending up in London with all the children singing Christmas carols around it. The poem was made into a book and it's got beautiful illustrations by a young Norwegian called Victoria Sandøy who's really captured the feel of it. 


What are your childhood memories of Christmas?

We lived in quite a tall terraced house in London. My family lived on the ground floor, I had an aunt and uncle who lived on the next floor up and then a granny above that and so we always were together at Christmas.

My aunt was a very good cook and my uncle made up quizzes and games. There was one I loved called the Adverbs Game where we all have think of a word and answer questions in that manner, for example, 'Surreptitiously.'

But I think probably the best part of Christmas was opening your stocking. I remember that lovely, bumpy feel of the stocking at the bottom of your bed. 

Superworm is captured by Wizard Lizard.

There's danger for Superworm when he's captured by Wizard Lizard (voiced by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith). (Image credit: BBC/Magic Light Pictures)

What do you love most about Christmas now? 

Definitely being with the wider family and the children and grandchildren. I always do little treasure hunts for the grandchildren in the morning. We make them wait until the afternoon to open most of their presents, but we hide a present for each of them around the house and give them clues and that’s good fun. And we've got a Father Christmas costume so we take it in turns to dress up. I just enjoy everyone being together. 

Superworm airs on Christmas Day on BBC1 at 2.30pm 

Tess Lamacraft
Senior Writer for What's On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite week, Whattowatch.com

Tess is a senior writer for What’s On TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite and WhattoWatch.com She's been writing about TV for over 25 years and worked on some of the UK’s biggest and best-selling publications including the Daily Mirror where she was assistant editor on the weekend TV magazine, The Look, and Closer magazine where she was TV editor. She has freelanced for a whole range of websites and publications including We Love TV, The Sun’s TV Mag, Woman, Woman’s Own, Fabulous, Good Living, Prima and Woman and Home.