Axel Scheffler, illustrator of Pip and Posy and the Flip Flap books for Nosy Crow, has been expressing to me the depths of his anxiety about the possibility of the UK leaving the European Union, and pointing out that without the EU, he would never have been in the UK to collaborate with Julia Donaldson to create The Gruffalo and all the other books they’ve worked on. The Gruffalo we recognise on book covers and backpacks today is the joint creation of two imaginations: Julia described him in her brilliant text, but, in the hands of another illustrator, he could have looked very different. So, without Axel’s input, the Gruffalo that children throughout the UK, wider Europe and the rest of the world know and love would not exist.
We were very happy to offer Axel the opportunity to write this guest blog post:
I came to the UK in 1982 to do a BA course in illustration at Bath Academy of Art. I came because Britain was a member of the EU (or, as it was called then, the EEC) and as an EU citizen I had the right to chose where I wanted to live, study and work. Without this I simply would not have come to the UK, would never have met Kate Wilson or, later, Alison Green, and, so, crucially, would never have met Julia Donaldson. The Gruffalo, if it had happened at all, would have been an entirely different beast. No doubt Julia would have written the text, but, assuming that it was taken on by a publisher, it wouldn’t have been illustrated by me (of course, maybe another illustrator would have done a better job!). And without the success of The Gruffalo there might not have been all the other books Julia and I have worked on together, or all the books that Julia and I have worked on separately. The Gruffalo is a British-German creative collaboration. And it’s a British-German collaboration commercially too: it’s published by Macmillan, a British company which was bought in 1995 by the German company that still owns it. The animated films based on the books I have created with Julia Donaldson are even more of a European project: they were made by a British company working with a German animation studio and have wonderful scores by French composer René Aubry. And the films have led to merchandising – everything from soft toys and pyjamas to children’s suitcases and melamine plates.
So without British membership of the EU, millions of British children would have grown up without The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom’s witch, and Stickman – at least in their existing forms. The Gruffalo and all the other books I’ve illustrated would not have contributed to the British economy, creating jobs and revenue. Just unravelling the story of one “British product”, The Gruffalo, shows that Britain’s engagement with Europe is not simply a political issue, but an economic and cultural one.
And if anyone had asked me when I arrived in the UK in 1982 that, 34 years later, the UK would be debating whether to stay in the EU, I would have thought they were being ridiculous. Frankly, I can’t quite believe that this referendum is happening. But then, many dreadful things are happening throughout the world that I cannot quite believe.
As a German, with a deep-rooted sense of the consequences of a fractured Europe, I’m seriously concerned for the future of a united, peaceful Europe. I’m concerned for the future of the children who have grown up and are growing up with the books I illustrate. I am concerned for the future of my own child, born in the UK to a German father and a French mother. I am concerned for my own future in the UK: I have no wish to live outside the European Union.
I know that I am just an illustrator, but I felt that, given my experience of being a German who feels at home here in the UK, I have an obligation to speak out, and given the global popularity of the books I have illustrated while I have lived in this country, maybe someone will listen to me. An open, united and peaceful Europe enriches us all. We have so much to lose by taking wrong decisions.