AWARD-WINNING Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler has drawn up plans to help the North East’s under-siege red squirrels.
Axel illustrated the children’s book The Gruffalo – by writer and playwright Julia Donaldson – which has sold millions of copies around the world.
Now he is to come to Kielder Forest in Northumberland to launch his latest book, How to Keep a Pet Squirrel, with 10p from ever copy printed donated to the Save Squirrels (SoS) conservation project at the Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
Axel, who has a keen interest in the struggle of the red squirrel in the face of its advancing grey rival, opted for Kielder because the forest is home to 60% of England’s remaining reds.
The event on October 2 is a week before the book’s official launch, which means people will be able to buy an advance copy signed by Axel at Kielder Castle from 10.30am to 12.30pm.
He will also open the new SoS squirrel viewing hide near the castle, accompanied by children from Kielder and Greenhaugh First Schools who were involved in its design.
From 3pm to 4pm he will be at Fenwick in Northumberland Street, Newcastle, where he will be reading from his new book on the store’s third floor where people can buy signed copies and meet members of the SoS team.
The idea for the book came as Axel dipped into The Children’s Encyclopaedia of 1910, which he had bought in a jumble sale, and came across a guide to procuring and caring for a pet squirrel.
Axel, who lives in London but is originally from Hamburg in Germany, said: “Squirrels sort of just sneaked into my life. Now they feature in almost all my picture books.
“I’m certainly all for the survival of the red squirrel on this island. They are quite common in the suburbs of Hamburg, so I grew up with squirrels around.”
Book editor Julian Loose said: “The book he created is a wonderful celebration of the red squirrel, and as everyone knows the situation of the native squirrel in the UK has changed rather drastically over the last century.
“So, with Axel’s blessing, we approached the Save our Squirrels campaign to see if our publication could help in some way. Faber is absolutely delighted to be able to make a donation to SoS with every copy of the book and to do what we can to raise awareness for this important campaign.”
The book is the latest project for London-based Axel, who has worked on many other award-winning titles, including The Gruffalo’s Child, Monkey Puzzle, Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale and Tiddler.
Carri Nicholson, Save our Squirrels project manager, was asked to write a contribution to the book explaining the plight of the red squirrel and how keeping such an animal belongs to the world of a century ago.
Carri said: “We cannot thank Axel and Faber & Faber, enough for their generous contribution to red squirrel conservation. We were approached by Axel and Faber out of the blue, and we thought it was a lovely idea.
“This book will be sold all over the world and it will do a lot to raise the profile of red squirrel conservation efforts in the North East.”
The Save our Squirrels project is the largest single species conservation initiative in the country.
The aim is to work with partners to deliver the North of England Red Squirrel Conservation Strategy by protecting and conserving the red squirrel, focusing on the 16 red squirrel reserves in Northern England.