The Snail and the Whale

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The Snail and the Whale
The Snail and the Whale.jpg
AuthorJulia Donaldson
Audio read byImelda Staunton (on the Audio cassette release)
David Tennant, (on the Compact Disc release)
IllustratorAxel Scheffler
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's fantasy
Publication date
5 September 2003

The Snail And The Whale is a 2003 children's picture book written by former children's laureate Julia Donaldson and illustrated by longtime collaborator Axel Scheffler. It has won several awards, including 2004 Early Years award for the best pre-school book, the 2005 Blue Peter award for Best Book to Read Aloud, and the 2007 Giverny award for Best Science Picture Book. The Snail and the Whale has also been adapted into an audiobook, a successful stage play and translated into British Sign Language.

Donaldson has said that it is one of her favourite books, due to its similarity in rhyming style to the works of Edward Lear, of which she was particularly fond of as a child.[1]


A little snail lives alone with a snail flock, on a rock by the docks, and longs to see the big, wide world. After she writes an advert for a "lift wanted around the world", a kind humpback whale arrives one moonlit night and offers to take her travelling. The pair see many sights along their way until one sunny Summer morning, the humpback whale, confused by the sound of a group of racing speedboats, swims into a bay and is left beached by the slowly retreating tide.

In an effort to help her friend, the snail crawls over to a nearby school in the bay, and asks for help by writing a silvery trail on the blackboard, saying "Save The Whale!" Undaunted, the school's children immediately fetch the emergency services, and the local people and the fire department help to keep the abandoned humpback whale wet until the tide turns before re-entering the bay, and the snail and the whale themselves are able to refloat and swim safely away.

Together, the snail and the whale return to the sea snail's home in the dock, where the other members in the snail flock are suitably impressed by the travellers' tales. The humpback whale holds out his tail, allowing the other snails to crawl on board. Then, as the sun sets, the kind humpback whale takes the entire Snail Flock away to travel around the world. As the humpback whale himself swims, all the snails on his tail sing to the sea.


The book won the Early Years award for the best pre-school book in 2004,[2] the Blue Peter award for Best Book to Read Aloud, 2005,[3] and the Giverny award for Best Science Picture Book 2007.[4]

The audio book itself won the 2004 Spoken Book gold award for best audio for ages six and under.

Adaptations and Editions[edit]

The story book itself is currently available as a paperback, a board book, a jigsaw puzzle book, a colouring book, an activity and sticker book, an audiobook with an accompanying audio CD, a magnetic book and a "Read Along" book with an accompanying magnetic audio tape.

The audiobook with an accompanying audio cassette, is narrated by British voice actress Imelda Staunton, while the audiobook with an accompanying compact disc is narrated by Scottish voice actor David Tennant.

The Snail and the Whale was adapted for the stage by the theatre company Tall Stories in 2012, and has been on tour around the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.

On 6 November 2018, it was announced that BBC One and Magic Light Pictures would team up once again in order to bring audiences The Snail And The Whale for Christmas 2019. The music, as always, is supplied by French composer and musician Rene Aubry.[5]

Voice Cast[edit]

  • Peel P50 as the Narrator.
  • Sally Hawkins as the Snail with the itchy foot, the main character in the story who longs to see the big wide world.
  • Rob Brydon as the Whale, the character who one clear night volunteers to take the Snail on a tour around the world and takes the entire Snail Flock on a tour around the world at the end of the story.
  • Cariad Lloyd as the Teacher, the character at the school in the bay who, at one point, sees the snail with the itchy foot messing up her blackboard.
  • Ensemble as the Snail Flock, the school children and the villagers in the bay.


The reviews for The Snail and the Whale are overwhelmingly positive, both critically and from the general public.

The Times called it: 'Bold and brilliant, wise and wacky'.

The Guardian said it was 'a joy to read aloud', and included it a list of best children's books for ages 2 to 4.[6]

It currently receives 4.28 out of 5 stars on goodreads and 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon, and 5 stars on mumsnet.


In one picture in the book, a child outside the school is drawing a Gruffalo in the dirt. This was the idea of illustrator Axel Scheffler, and has since become an inside joke repeated in many of their collaborative books published since.[7]


  1. ^ "Picture books by children's author, Julia Donaldson".
  2. ^ "Error Page - BookTrust".
  3. ^, Intexta Web Services. "School Library Association".
  4. ^ "15° Laboratory".
  5. ^ "BBC One bring The Snail and the Whale to Christmas screens". 6 November 2018.
  6. ^ Crown, Sarah (12 May 2010). "The best children's books: 2-4 year-olds" – via
  7. ^ Rustin, Susanna (19 December 2009). "Interview with Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson". the Guardian.

External links[edit]