What’s quirkier than a wonky donkey? Perhaps that creature’s dinky daughter! New Zealander Craig Smith’s picture book The Wonky Donkey catapulted to fame in fall 2018 when a YouTube video went viral of a Scottish woman laughing irrepressibly while reading the picture book aloud to her infant grandson. Now, young readers can meet that hanky-panky, cranky, stinky, dinky, lanky, honky-tonky, winky, wonky donkey’s offspring in The Dinky Donkey. Released globally this month by Scholastic, the sequel is illustrated by Katz Cowley, as was The Wonky Donkey, which currently has a worldwide in-print tally of three million copies.
Singer and songwriter Smith’s original donkey character first sprang to life more than a decade ago, at a gathering of his family and friends in the town of Te Anau on New Zealand’s South Island. “It began as a joke—‘What do you call a donkey that has three legs?’ ”—Smith told PW. “The answer was, ‘A wonky donkey!’ From there, there was no stopping the laughter and jokes, and the rhyming went on. I had recently begun writing songs for children, including ‘Willbee the Bumblebee,’ which I cowrote with my mum, Maureen. So, after that hilarious evening, I went home and got out my rhyming dictionary. The cumulative rhyme of Wonky’s adventures and attributes began to unfold, and I thought it would make a funny song.”
His instincts were correct. Smith released “The Wonky Donkey” on his first children’s CD in 2007, and the following year it won New Zealand’s Best Children’s Song of the Year. Envisioning future plans for Wonky, Smith approached Scholastic N.Z. with the album, and senior editor Penny Scown proposed publishing a picture book version of the donkey’s story.
After Scholastic N.Z. released The Wonky Donkey as a paperback-and-CD package in that country and Australia in October 2009, Smith said, “The book went nuts! It went back to press five times before Christmas, and Scholastic also released a boxed edition with a plush toy. The Wonky Donkey rocketed to the number one spot on New Zealand’s children’s bestseller list and became a household name here.”
The Granny Effect
In the wake of the book’s success in Australasia, Scholastic U.S. released a paperback edition of The Wonky Donkey in May 2010 with what Ken Geist, v-p and publisher of picture books, called “a modest first printing.” The title went on to sell some 75,000 copies before fall 2018, when the video of Janice Clark (dubbed “The Scottish Granny”) reading the book became a viral sensation, with more than 150 million views.
“The musicality and humor of the book’s cumulative rhyme, and the repeated sound of the donkey’s ‘Hee Haw’ make this a great read-aloud,” Geist noted. “And watching the video of the grandmother’s uncontrollable giggling, you can’t help but laugh as well.” Given the resulting spike in interest in Wonky, Scholastic ordered a 500,000-copy reprinting last fall of the picture book, which landed on USA Today’s bestseller list for more than a year and currently has two million copies in print across all Scholastic U.S. channels.
Smith explained that he had long contemplated creating a follow-up to his debut book, given that “I had thought of plenty of additional adjectives that I never used in Wonky, and after my daughter was born, a book about that donkey’s daughter was the obvious choice. And then the Scottish Granny came along—and a sequel was an option we couldn’t refuse. So even though the idea to write one was there for years, I didn’t fully commit to The Dinky Donkey until January 2019, working with Scholastic N.Z. publisher Lynette Evans, who encouraged riding the Wonky wave with a second cumulative rhyming story out of the Wonky stable.”
And the Scottish Granny has returned to celebrate the recent arrival of the stinky, punky, plinky-plonky, winky-tinky, pinky, funky, blinky star of The Dinky Donkey, for which Scholastic U.S. ordered a 50,000-copy first print run. Clark’s contagious laughter is again audible on YouTube, as she revels in reading the new book to her grandson—now a rambunctious toddler.
And can fans expect to meet additional eccentric donkey family members in subsequent picture books? “Yes!” Smith replied. “I’m partnering again with Katz Cowley, the Scholastic N.Z. publishing team, and Scholastic globally. We are working on a book about a grandmother donkey as a tribute to my mum, being a granny herself, and to the Scottish Granny.”
The Dinky Donkey by Craig Smith, illus. by Katz Cowley. Scholastic, $7.99 paper Nov. ISBN 978-1-338-60083-4