For the very first time, the names of two British children’s book luminaries will appear together on a picture-book cover. Author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Helen Oxenbury have teamed up to create The Giant Jumperee, centering on a rabbit who, with help from his animal pals, tries to discover what self-proclaimed “scary” creature is lurking in his burrow. Unveiled here is the cover of the book, which is due from Dial on April 17 with a 75,000-copy first printing. The Giant Jumperee will be published simultaneously in the U.K. under Penguin Random House U.K.’s Puffin imprint.

Donaldson, a former U.K. Children's Laureate, has received numerous awards for her books, which include the international bestsellers The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. Though she has written more than 100 picture books, the author originally penned The Giant Jumperee in 2000 in a different genre. “I wrote this story as a play for an educational publisher who was looking for some short plays to be read or acted by school reading groups,” she explained. “It’s based on a traditional tale of which I’d come across several versions, about a little character tricking some bigger ones by pretending to be a monster, but I built on that to come up with the Jumperee and the rhymes this baby frog uses to scare the other animals.”

It didn’t take Donaldson long to realize that the dialogue-driven story might work as well on the page as on the stage. “Almost as soon as the play was published,” she recalled, “I thought, ‘Oh, what a lovely picture book that story would make – why didn’t I save it for that?’ When the opportunity arose to publish a picture-book version with Puffin, I was delighted to revisit and adapt it. I am thrilled that a story I have always loved is to be presented to a picture-book audience.”

A longtime fan of Oxenbury’s picture books, Donaldson said she was “over the moon” when the illustrator signed on to the project, and was pleased that their collaboration was such a close one. “The British editor, Anna Barnes, got the two of us together at an early stage, along with the designer, Goldberry Broad,” she said. “That is something that doesn’t often happen, at least in my case. We discussed the story and how Helen might interpret it, but really it was up to her.”

Creative Minds in Sync

Oxenbury’s vision for the story was very much to Donaldson’s liking. “Helen’s art has a lovely classic feel, suitable for a traditional tale,” the author said. “I really didn’t want someone terribly wacky, as I find that if the ‘straight’ characters in a story look too stylized and cartoon-y that actually can detract from the humor of the denouement. But at the same time, they needed to be definite individuals, and that’s what Helen has created so well. I especially like the well-meaning elephant and the wry, eye-rolling mother frog. And I love the scene where the animals finally get the joke and roll around in hysterics.”

Broad, a freelance art director who worked with the illustrator on King Jack and the Dragon and Captain Jack and the Dragon, said, “Helen has a remarkable talent for capturing the characteristics and proportions of real animals, and also the environment and landscapes surrounding them,” she noted. “She also has this magical way of giving the animals expression and anthropomorphic character that really bring the story to life, making the action and dialogue believable and dramatic. On top of this, her art style is warm and wonderfully loose and expressive, with her use of pencil line and wash. It's a perfect match for Julia’s text.”

The art director explained that designing the cover for The Giant Jumperee was a challenge, since the character’s name is a made-up phrase that “doesn’t conjure up an obvious image.” The solution, according to Broad, was to focus on the other animals rather than the mysterious title character. “We tried quite a number of alternative designs, none of which quite worked to show the gentle charm of the story,” she said. “The variety of scale of the animals also caused problems, so showing them in a seated group manages to overcome this issue and, I think, creates a warm and touching scene. The cover shows us that the book is as much a tale of friendship and of helping each other as it is of intrigue and humor.”

On this side of the Atlantic, Dial publisher Lauri Hornik praised The Giant Jumperee as “the quintessential read-aloud, due to both pieces – text and artwork. Julia is so very good with rhyme and repetition, and Helen’s illustrations have a such a sense of mystery and magic – and yet innocence – and the way she depicts animals is darling.”

Hornik welcomed the book’s cover design as “very warm and accessible,” with a satisfying edge. “Helen’s cover art has prey and predators hanging out together in a chummy group,” she said. “The scene has a hint of that harmless mischievousness that both Julia and Helen have reveled in throughout their careers. I love that about their work. Joining these two masterful figures in the picture book world is an event – and is very exciting!

The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson, illus. by Helen Oxenbury. Dial, $17.99 Apr. 2017 ISBN 978-0-7352-2797-2