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The Ugly Five

Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Alex Scheffler

Meet Wildebeest and Warthog, Spotted Hyena, Lappet-Faced Vulture and Marabou Stork.
People call them the Ugly Five . . . but are they really?

Who’s that singing on the savannah? It’s the top-five ugly animals in Africa! The wildebeest, warthog, vulture, hyena and marabou stork swagger proudly across the savannah, rejoicing in their ugliness – and delighting their babies, who think they’re perfect just the way they are.

Inspired by the real-life Ugly Five safari animals, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book is a celebration of animals who are often rather unloved. The funny, heart-warming rhyme is a joy to read aloud, while bold, comical illustrations bring the savannah spectacularly to life.

The story begins with the “Big Five” (elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino, leopard) and friends lounging about being “glorious,” “cool,” “fine,” “divine,” “graceful,” and “great.” When a wildebeest enters the scene, the other animals don’t label her, but she proclaims herself “the ugly one”. The wildebeest doesn’t seem bothered to be ugly and soon meets the hyena, who she thinks is even uglier than she, and the hyena concurs. The wildebeest invites the hyena to “Join the club,” and a pattern emerges. As they walk through the savanna, they’re joined by a vulture, a warthog, and a marabou stork. Each time a new animal joins the bunch, they modify their song about how ugly they are.

Here is what illustrator Axel Scheffler says:

“It was suggested at some point that the ugliness of the creatures should be even more extreme and exaggerated, but I felt they should look more naturalistic (as much as my drawings ever are) and that the animals – who are not really ugly – should keep their dignity.

African wildlife is widely under threat, so I’m happy to partner with Tusk, an organisation that raises awareness of this situation and that promotes its protection.”

Book details
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Alison Green Books (September 7, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1407174193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1407174198
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.4 x 11.6 inches
Julia Donaldson: How my first safari was the inspiration for The Ugly Five

There can’t be a writer who hasn’t been asked “Where do you get your ideas?” and experienced an inward groan. My usual (and truthful) reply is “in the bath”, but at last I am able to cite in this article an actual place on the map: the Madikwe Game Reserve, in South Africa…..

The moment of inspiration came the day we saw a herd of wildebeest. My husband remarked that, despite their ungainly proportions, he thought they were rather noble-looking, and Lucky replied, “I’m sorry to tell you this, Malcolm, but the wildebeest is one of the Ugly Five.”

CLICK HERE to read what inspired Julia Donaldson to write this book.

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