A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Book Birthday Interview – Emma Pass talks to Elli Woollard about The Just So Stories.

9781509814749rudyard kipling-s just so stories retold by elli woollard_jpg_285_400

Today, Elli Woollard’s retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Just So Stories is published, with gorgeous illustrations by Marta Altés. Happy book birthday, Elli and Marta!

Here’s the blurb:

Delightfully retold in humorous verse, with beautiful illustrations throughout, this is a beautiful reworked edition of Rudyard Kipling’s children’s classic, Just So Stories. In this stunning illustrated collection meet the cat who walked by himself, discover how the lazy camel got his hump, how the elephant got his long trunk, find out why the rhino has such wrinkly skin and how the whale got his teeny tiny throat. These well known, richly imagined stories tell of how the world came to be as it is. This is a smart, funny and younger approach to Kipling’s work, and Just So Stories as you’ve never seen them before.

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories are one of the enduring classics of children’s literature and these witty, inventive stories have delighted generations of children. Combining the brilliant rhyming talent of Elli Woollard and beautiful illustrations from the award-winning Marta Altés, Elli Woollard’s Just So Stories is an enchanting retelling of a much-loved classic for a new generation. A book to truly treasure and one you will want to share.

I used to love The Just So Stories when I was a kid, so I caught up with Elli to find out more…


Hi Elli! Can you tell us a bit about the book?


It’s a retelling in verse of some of Kipling’s Just So Stories, with beautiful illustrations by Marta Altés, aimed at a younger readership than the originals.

What’s the story behind it? What was it like to work on a retelling of a classic?


It was a commission from Macmillan. When my editor first spoke to me about it I knew the basic premise behind the Just So Stories, but if I’d ever actually read them I’d long since forgotten. It was a real joy to discover them; Kipling’s prose, while very old-fashioned, is a delight, and they proved very easy to adapt.


What was your favourite part of writing this book?


Seeing the illustrations for the first time. Marta put so much work into it, and it shows; the pictures are absolutely stunning. It’s a true work of art, and I’m hoping that Marta gets a lot of recognition for it.


What challenges did you face?


I suppose the main challenge was weeding out some of the elements of Just So that were distinctly of their time, shall we say. Kipling was possibly no more of an apologist for colonialism than a lot of people of his generation, but some of his views are now rightly considered completely unacceptable. His story of how the leopard got its spots, for instance, was very problematic, and in the end my editor and I decided not to retell it. He was a wonderful storyteller and I think his work deserves an audience despite his views (and I’m not sure anyone deserves the ignominy of having their work recited by Boris Johnson); nonetheless, he’s an author who needs to be approached with eyes open.


What’s your favourite Just So Story and why?


Probably the Cat Who Walked By Himself, because it’s so true. Cats are lovely (mine is sitting purring on my lap as I type) but they’re snooty little b*ggers who treat the entire human race with disdain. Unless you give them Dreamies, possibly, but I’m not sure they existed in Kipling’s time.


If you could work on any other classic retelling, what would it be and why?


I’m actually waiting with fingers crossed to hear if I’ve got the go-ahead for another retelling, but can’t say anything about it at the moment. Other than that, I’d love to retell some Greek myths. I think the Cyclops story, with Odysseus cleverly saying his name is Nobody, would really appeal to small children. ‘Mr Nobody’ was responsible for lots of things in our house when my youngest was little. He scribbled on our living room wall once, which was very clever of him.


Do you have any writing superstitions? If so, what are they?


Boringly, I don’t. I don’t think I could write without coffee though, so I’ll claim that as a superstition rather than the addiction that it actually is. It sounds better that way.


What are you working on next?


I’m trying, as I have been for a while, to write something for slightly older children. I have no idea whether anything will ever come of it though.


Thanks, Elli – great to chat to you, and happy book birthday!


Elli-013Elli Woollard
At the age of four Elli wrote her first picture book, involving her best friend, a tricycle accident, blood everywhere, and the author emerging as the hero. Several years later she completed an MA in social anthropology, moved out to Thailand, taught herself the language, and has since worked variously as a Thai to English translator, a copywriter for a domestic appliance insurance firm (about as interesting as it sounds) and an assistant editor in academic publishing. She now lives in London where she combines writing with freelance translation work, looking after her four children, butchering nice music on the piano and being dictated to by her deranged cat.


Emma Pass PhotoEmma Pass
Website, Blog, GoodreadsFacebook, Twitter

Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, dystopian thriller ACID, won the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award, was picked as one of YALSA’s Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for 2015 and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Her second novel, THE FEARLESS, was also nominated for the Carnegie and won the 2016 Concorde Book Award. Emma lives with her artist husband and crazy greyhound G-Dog in the East Midlands, and, when she’s not writing, runs writing workshops in schools and community settings. She is also the co-founder of the UKYA and Children’s Extravaganza (UKYACX), a regional book event celebrating the huge diversity of children’s and YA literature in the UK.






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