Who is he?

Axel Scheffler is an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed illustrator of some of the most well-loved children’s books. His books have been published in many languages and his work has been exhibited all around the world. Here is his story so far:


I was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1957 and spent my childhood there. From an early age I enjoyed drawing and when I finished school I knew I wanted to do something to do with art.

In 1959

Drawing, aged 8

Childhood drawing, aged 8

First school book

Self portrait, aged 8

Painting, aged 14


I applied to an Art School to become a teacher, but was rejected so then I started to study History of Art at the university in Hamburg, but I soon found out that I'm not an academic, and gave up without graduating.


I spent a year doing alternative National Service. This was not in the army, but working with mentally ill people in their homes. During the holidays I went to see a friend who was at an Art School in England - that gave me the idea to live abroad and apply to study there.


I moved to the UK to study Visual Communications at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, Wiltshire out in the English countryside surrounded by sheep and peacocks. The course also included an exchange to Cooper Union in New York. It was during these years (1982-1984) that I decided to become an illustrator.

Here are some of my sketches from that time:

Corsham High Street 1985

Sheep in the Corsham countryside


More from my New York sketchbook


New York sketchbook

New York Etching 1984


View of Streatham from my window

I moved to Streatham Hill in London.

I started work as a freelance illustrator. I showed my portfolio of work to various companies in England and Germany, and I soon got work in editorial and advertising illustration and children's books.


The first book I illustrated was The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell.


The first book published in Germany was a story by Edward Lear.


My first book with Julia Donaldson was A Squash and a Squeeze. It was the publisher who brought us together, and started our partnership.

Some character development sketches

The first front cover looked like this


The Gruffalo was born! It won the Smarties Prize in the same year. Since then Julia and I have made lots of books together, but The Gruffalo has been our most popular book so far.

These drawings were faxed to an illustrator friend, showing my struggle with The Gruffalo

I painted some characters from The Gruffalo on the walls of the new library at Brackenbury Primary School


I was asked to design the official Christmas card sent out by Gordon Brown’s Treasury.


The Gruffalo film was released on Christmas Day and watched by 9.8 million people. Films of The Gruffalo’s Child, Room on the Broom, Stick Man and The Highway Rat have also been made since then.


The Royal Mail asked me to design the Christmas stamps.


I painted a book bench for the National Literacy Trust.


On 23rd June, Britain voted to leave the European Union. A very sad day for me.

This cartoon appeared on the front cover of The Times Literary Supplement. I can't believe she did it!


Discover Story Centre in Stratford, East London ran a wonderful immersive 'mini-world' exhibition for children celebrating some of the books that Julia Donaldson and I have made together.

Julia and I try out the broom at Discover in Stratford!


The Gruffalo has been adapted for many settings - theatre, film, theme parks - but never before has it been an opera... until now. The Gruffalo Opera for children was first performed in Berlin in January to great acclaim!

A scene from the Gruffalo opera


Royal Mail's stamps celebrating 20 years of the Gruffalo

To celebrate 20 years of The Gruffalo, the Royal Mail commissioned special edition Gruffalo stamps. The German Post also did the same!


I wanted to do something to help children understand what's happening with the coronavirus crisis. Julia Donaldson wrote some rhyming couplets and I used our existing book characters to make a set of illustrations which were published in The Guardian newspaper. You can see more here.