Lennon and McCartney, Rice and Lloyd Webber, Gilbert and Sullivan; Morecambe and Wise - great partnerships one and all.

When it comes to the world of children’s books Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler have proved to be in a league of their own.

The pair have worked together on and off for the past 30 years bringing us classic tales such as The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Stick Man. Julia’s stories, often told in rhyme, have captured the imagination of several generations of youngsters and Axel’s illustrations have brought her magical world to life

Now their partnership is to be celebrated in a unique exhibition which opens today at The Lowry, Salford Quays, marking the pair’s remarkable 30 year partnership.

Since collaborating on their first book – A Squash and a Squeeze in 1993 – the duo have become the undisputed champions of children’s literature.

“We have been incredibly lucky,” said Axel. “It is amazing and you do have to pinch yourself at times. It is so touching when you meet the readers and hear how much the books means to them.”

Messenger Newspapers: The wonderful array of characters conjured up by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Macmillan Children's Books

Julia added: “I just feel very fortunate to be doing this. To hear from parents who are so grateful for the books and say that they have given them and their children hours of pleasure – what a great thing to have achieved in life!

“It’s so gratifying to think that your work has spanned the generations and that the parents who first read the books to their children are now the grandparents and the children are now the parents reading the same books to their children. You just hope that that can go on and on.”

The Julia and Axel exhibition will be the first time many of Julia’s personal notebooks will go on display to the public giving people the chance to see her original ideas for characters and some of the rhymes which didn’t make the final edit. Axel has loaned over 100 of his original drawings and sketches, showing how he develops characters having been sent Julia’s finished manuscript for a book.

“I never know what the next book is about so it is a big moment when the publisher sends me the manuscript. I quite like that,” he said. “But it’s a very professional process and we have done so many books together now.”

Julia revealed: “I don’t give anyone a clue as to what the book I’m working on is about, not even the publishers. If I said I was going to write a story about a ghost, for example, and the publishers said something like ‘well, don’t make it too scary’ that would stop me being able to write it. I need to have complete faith in myself and the book so I will always complete it before letting anyone see it.”

Axel is not the only illustrator Julia works with and her output is prolific – she’s written over 200 works for children in her career. He also works with other authors but the pair have so far collaborated on more than 25 books.

Messenger Newspapers: Charlie Cook's Favourite Book © Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler 2005 - Macmillan Children's Books

“There are certain books when I have Axel completely in mind from the outset,” she said. “I trust him completely and never worry at all what he might come up with.”

Julia, now 74, is passionate, artistic, shrewd and a natural performer. She prefers to be described as a performer rather than a writer and still one of her greatest delights is to read her books to captivated audiences of youngsters with many a book signing turning into a full-blown performance

Before her publishing career took off she was a songwriter and singer. She met her husband of 50 years, Malcolm, when she was part of a group performing during Rag Week at Bristol University while studying drama and French.

Messenger Newspapers: Axel Scheffler (Picture: Liam Jackson)

Born in German, Axel, 65, came over to the UK in 1982 to study at the Bath Academy of Art and it was there he realised his talents lay as an illustrator. He had been working as a freelance illustrator when a publisher introduced him to Julia for A Squash and a Squeeze and their partnership – dubbed ‘the Lennon and McCartney of children’s literature’ - was born.

“He still surprises me all the time,” said Julia. “I know the style and how the characters will look but it’s all the little extra details he adds. He always puts these little details into his illustrations which I know children love to discover as much as I do.”

In spite of their amazing continued success – Julia was the best selling author in the UK across all genres in 2022; Axel the best-selling illustrator and The Baddies, their most recent collaboration, the UK’s best selling picture book of 2022 – neither takes anything for granted.

Messenger Newspapers: Julia Donaldson                        (Picture: Steve Ullathorne)

“There is a pressure,” said Julia. “You do feel people are expecting great things with every book. It’s rather like being a concert pianist; your last performance is always going to be what you are judged on.”

You sense that for all their success – the Gruffalo alone is available in 107 languages and dialects – this summer’s Julia and Axel exhibition is something they are particularly proud of.

“I do like the title, that they are just using our Christian names,” said Julia. “That was actually my idea,” she added with a grin. “But what I particularly like is that the exhibition is free. That’s marvellous.

“So often parents have to fork out for things to treat their family but this costs nothing.

“It is exciting to be able to share some ‘behind the scenes’ secrets with our young readers and to show what happens before a finished book is in their hands. I hope that it will help them to feel creative and to start writing and illustrating their own stories, so that we have new picture-book creators in the future.”

Michael Simpson, The Lowry’s director of visual arts, and the man responsible for bringing the Julia and Axel exhibition to Salford said: “We are over the moon to have this exhibition at The Lowry.

“For any writer to hand over their notebooks or any artist to hand over their first sketches is a huge thing to do.

“We are proud that they feel that they can trust us to look after them and to show them the way they want them to be shown.

“Our aim is to have exhibition that loads of young people and their families will come to and have a good time at.

Julia and Axel follows on from the Picture This exhibition last summer which featured six popular children’s books by different authors, including Room on the Broom by Julia and Axel.

“That really struck a chord with families,” said Michael, “so when we realised this year was the 30th anniversary of Julia and Axel’s partnership, we asked if an exhibition would be possible and the publishers said ‘yes’.

“And we are absolutely delighted at the massive personal commitment both Julia and Axel have made to it, both in giving their time and advice and also in lending us so many precious items from their personal archives, many which have never been seen before.”

As well as the exhibition of artwork and notebooks, a whole range of activities form part of the six-month long exhibition.

“We want to help inspire the next generation of Julias and Axels,” said Michael. “So we are going to make sure there are loads of opportunities in the exhibition to write, draw, read and to make things and to come up with your own stories. We want it to be an opportunity for children to think ‘I can do that, I’m going to give it a go’.”

Julia and Axel – Thirty Years of Favourite Stories is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from Saturday, July 22 to Monday, January 1. Admission is free. Details from www.thelowry.com