Is it a bird? Is it an airplane? No, it’s Superworm …

IT wouldn’t be Christmas without a TV adaptation of a title by Julia Donaldson-Axel Scheffler.

The dynamic duo’s on-screen book adaptations are a mainstay of the BBC’s Christmas program – and this year they look set to continue their festive reign with the wonderful Superver.

For those who don’t yet know this unlikely comic book hero, the super long, super strong Superworm always saves the day. But who can save him when he gets too self-absorbed and is captured by the evil wizarding lizard?

Associated once again with the award-winning film Magic Light Pictures, the unique animation – the ninth television adaptation of a Donaldson / Scheffler title for BBC One and BBC iPlayer – features a top-notch voice cast, including Olivia Colman as as narrator, Matt Smith as Superworm himself, Patricia Allison as Butterfly (the newly added), and annual returnee Rob Brydon as Crow.

The film follows in the footsteps of The Gruffalo, stick man, and The snail and the whale, among others, with last year Zog and the Flying Doctors securing 7 million viewers on D-Day.

So with high hopes for another family favorite in Superver, we learn more from Donaldson, 73 herself.

Superworm, voiced by Matt Smith. Photo by PA Photo BBC / Magic Light Pictures

CAN YOU SUMMARIZE SUPERWORM FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW HISTORY?

The story really is that Superworm is a … super worm. He doesn’t really have any special superpowers, but he’s just really strong and tall and helps other creatures. It transforms into a lasso to prevent a baby toad from getting run over; it turns into a fishing line to save a drowning beetle; and it turns into a skipping rope to help some bored bees with the activity. But then the evil wizarding lizard hears about this worm and thinks that maybe he can bury some treasure in the ground and thus get his evil minion Crow to capture Superworm. But there is a rescue; all the animals he helped band together and come up with a smart plan …

WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS SPECIAL TALE COME FROM?

Well Axel Scheffler is very good at drawing little insects – if you look at one of the other books there are always little butterflies or ants that he created that weren’t in the text at all. . For a long time, I thought I would love to do a book about bugs, bugs, and garden creatures, but I couldn’t really think of a hook to hang it up. But then regardless of that, I thought I had never done a superhero book – probably at the stage where one of my grandchildren was really interested. Batman and Superman and Spider Man themselves. So I just put the two things together: my superhero would be this worm. Sometimes this happens; you have two separate ideas, and they trigger each other and that’s how a story begins.


Superworm, voiced by Matt Smith. Photo by PA Photo BBC / Magic Light Pictures

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WATCH YOUR CHARACTERS COME TO LIFE ON SCREEN?

I guess that’s an extension of what it is to write a story and that it’s illustrated. And in fact it is not a sudden thing; it’s not like I’m sitting there on Christmas Day like, “I wonder how it’s gonna be”, because I’m involved throughout the process. They show me the initial script and Axel does too, so it’s pretty gradual. They actually created a (new) character in the movie, a butterfly, and they made Superworm a little big for his boots. I think for a movie they have to expand slightly on what’s (in the book).

YOU MUST BE HAPPY TO BE A KEY ELEMENT OF CHRISTMAS HOURS FROM YEAR TO YEAR?

I guess it is (has become quite the tradition), really. I’m sure there are plenty of people watching The Snowman every year again – not all of my stories are very Christmas but, knock on the wood, so far they have always been shown on Christmas day. We still watch the animation, but it’s kinda mind-blowing to think that there are all those millions of people in the UK who watch at Christmas too.


Wizard Lizard, voiced by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, and Superworm, voiced by Matt Smith. Photo by PA Photo BBC / Magic Light Pictures

YOU HAVE MANY CHILDREN TO ENCOURAGE YOU TOO. ARE THEY IMPRESSED BY THEIR GRANNY’S WRITING?

I have nine of them and they are all under 11 years old. I think it’s when they go to school that they start to feel – I hope – pride. Obviously, when they are very little, they just (think) “Grandma writes these books.” And, of course, kids don’t really understand what it means to write a book. In a queue, a mother can say to her child, “Oh, look, this is the lady who wrote your favorite book,” and the child immediately thinks that I have paper, glue and stuff and that I made this child’s individual book. It takes a while for them to understand that it is the lady who makes up the stories in her head. Lots of schools do projects on my books, and some schools seem to have a ‘Julia Donaldson’ class … I don’t think my grandchildren’s schools do, though.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST TIP FOR YOUNG WRITERS?

Well, I think, just the story. The plot must be good. And the language. For me, those are the two things that are really important because the character is generally quite large, quite bold, and you can describe it. Like Superworm is strong and useful. And the wizarding lizard is greedy and controlling. And then the illustrator will bring out these characters and make them feel a little more rounded. But, in fact, from a writer’s point of view – I’m talking about writing for very young children when you have very few words – it’s a lot more the script with a nice twist and a happy ending, but can – not quite the way people might expect.

Superworm airs on BBC One on Christmas Day at 2:30 p.m. and will air on BBC iPlayer.