Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell is editor of The Book of Hopes, an anthology of stories and pictures for children. Her own books for children include, most recently, The Good Thieves.

Consider the Stork

Katherine Rundell, 1 April 2021

It was wartime​, and propaganda fell from the sky like dishonest rain. Nazi planes dropped leaflets over British lines in Europe telling them that their wives were in bed with American soldiers, complete with drawings of said wives undressed. The Allied forces flew hydrogen balloons over Axis troops to scatter images of fields lined with German graves. But the scope of both planes and...

Consider the Giraffe

Katherine Rundell, 19 November 2020

Horace​ was stridently anti-giraffe. The animal was, he believed, conceptually untidy: ‘If a painter had chosen to set a human head on a horse’s neck [or] if a lovely woman ended repulsively in the tail of a black fish, could you stifle laughter, friends?’ His account of the giraffe in Ars Poetica (c.8 bc) ends on a plea: ‘Let the work be what you like, but let it be...

Consider the Hare

Katherine Rundell, 2 July 2020

Hares​ have always been thought magical. In their long-limbed quivering beauty, they were believed to be walking, breathing love potions. Philostratus warned his third-century readers that there were unscrupulous men out there who had found in the hare ‘a certain power to produce love and try to secure the objects of their affection by the compulsion of magic art’. Pliny...

Consider the Greenland Shark

Katherine Rundell, 7 May 2020

In​ 1606 a devastating pestilence swept through London; the dying were boarded up in their homes with their families, and a decree went out that the theatres, the bear-baiting yards and the brothels be closed. It was then that Shakespeare wrote one of his very few references to the plague, catching at our precarity: ‘The dead man’s knell/Is there scarce asked for who, and good...

Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell, 6 February 2020

They are not, in fact, hermitical: they’re sociable, often climbing on top of one another to sleep in great piles, and their group behaviour is so intricately ordered that they make the politics of Renaissance courts look simplistic. When a crab comes across a new shell, it will climb into it and try it on for size. If the shell is of good quality but too big, it waits nearby for another crab to come and inspect it. If that crab also finds it too large, it joins the first crab, holding onto its claw until a queue develops – it can stretch to twenty crabs, arranged in order of size from smallest to largest, each holding onto the next: a hermit crab chorus line. When at last a crab arrives who can fit the vacant shell, the first crab in line claims the new crab’s former shell, and there is a flurry of crabs climbing into their neighbour’s home. The crab’s abdomen is soft and vulnerable to attack while exposed, so the whole process takes place with astonishing rapidity.

Consider the Hedgehog

Katherine Rundell, 24 October 2019

Pliny the Elder​ was not an easy man. He reprimanded his nephew, Pliny the Younger, for walking instead of letting himself be carried, thereby wasting hours when he could have been reading. But in 77 ce Pliny made the hedgehog the focus of his attention, and produced one of the loveliest myths in natural history. ‘Hedgehogs,’ he wrote in his Historia Naturalis, ‘prepare...

Consider the Swift

Katherine Rundell, 15 August 2019

A common swift​, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg, with wings like a scythe and a tail like a fork, they eat and sleep on the wing. They gather nesting material only from what’s in the air, which means that there have been accounts of...

Consider the Golden Mole

Katherine Rundell, 18 April 2019

The word​ iridescent comes from the Greek for ‘rainbow’, iris, and the Latin suffix, escent, ‘having a tendency towards’. Iridescence turns up in many insects, some birds, the odd squid: but in only one mammal, the golden mole. Some species are black, some metallic silver or tawny yellow, but under different lights and from different angles, their fur shifts...

Consider the Narwhal

Katherine Rundell, 3 January 2019

In 1584​, as Ivan the Terrible lay dying, he called from his bed for his unicorn horn, a royal staff ‘garnished with verie fare diamondes, rubies, saphiers, emeralls’. Unicorn horns were believed throughout Europe to have magical curative properties; as late as 1789, a unicorn drinking horn was used to protect the French court, where it was said to sweat and change colour in...

Consider the Wombat

Katherine Rundell, 11 October 2018

‘The Wombat​,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an...

Consider the Lemur

Katherine Rundell, 5 July 2018

It is​ probably best not to take advice direct and unfiltered from the animal kingdom – but lemurs are, I think, an exception. They live in matriarchal troops, with an alpha female at their head. When ring-tailed lemurs are cold or frightened, or when they want to bond, they group together in a furry mass known as a lemur ball, forming a black and white sphere that ranges in size from...

Consider the Pangolin

Katherine Rundell, 22 February 2018

To reach​ the pangolin is difficult, which feels only reasonable; something so remarkable shouldn’t be gained with ease. She lives in a wildlife conservation project outside Harare, near the airport. The roads in Harare have been deteriorating for years; gaps are patched with house bricks, and during the rains it would be possible to bathe a Great Dane in the potholes. Most of the road...

At the British Library: Harry Potter

Katherine Rundell, 14 December 2017

It seems eccentric​ to say it of a person richer than the queen, but J.K. Rowling is, I think, undervalued. Or rather, she gets credit for the less important things, for being a marketing phenomenon whose books have sold more than 400 million copies, and not for the painstaking intricacy of the texts themselves. In the nine years that I’ve been writing children’s fiction, one of...

Ferrets can be gods

Katherine Rundell, 11 August 2016

Saki existed in a perfect storm; every element of his circumstances contributed to the lunatic clarity of his imagination. The necessity for secrecy in his romantic life perhaps made it natural for him to write obliquely, to use tigers and wolves and pigs to talk about sex and death and social climbing. Living a half-hidden life, he was a man who saw the hidden wildness of things. His short stories burst with the possibilities of a world in which strangeness is bone-deep.

Diary: Night Climbing

Katherine Rundell, 23 April 2015

In the last few years, I have fallen in love with brick. I carry in my head a taxonomy of drainpipes and cement and scaffolding; I’ve become, in the last decade, a night climber. A while ago I climbed up the side of Battersea Power Station, up the great smoke stacks, to look at the world as it lay below. It’s the largest brick building in Europe, and I wanted to see it before it disappeared. It’s easier than you would think to get onto the walls of Battersea. You shin up a lamppost and drop down over a wall and there’s the power station, huge and already part dismantled, lying like an upended dinosaur.

Fashionable Gore: H. Rider Haggard

Katherine Rundell, 3 April 2014

I first encountered King Solomon’s Mines in the children’s section of a public library in Harare. Most of the books smelled of water damage and many had been taken out so rarely that the last ‘return by’ stamp pre-dated Mugabe and decimalisation. I was working through shelves of books about horses and morality tales written by women who manifestly did not like children,...

He fights with flashing weapons: Thomas Wyatt

Katherine Rundell, 6 December 2012

Before Anne Boleyn laid her head on the executioner’s block, she bent and wrapped the hem of her dress around her feet. She thereby ensured that, if in her death throes she were to spreadeagle her legs, the crowd would not see up her skirt. It was a gesture at once gracious and gruesome, and the verse that Sir Thomas Wyatt (probably) wrote on the occasion from the Tower of London is...

From The Blog
11 July 2013

From my window I can see the Shard. Today there are helicopters, flying low. A man driving a van stops at the lights and sticks his whole torso out of the window, right to the navel, and twists to look up. Six women are climbing the Shard, to protest against the expansion of drilling for oil in the Arctic. Their mission-statement is written in the vernacular of Hollywood disaster movies: ‘1 skyscraper. 6 women. No permission.’ The Shard juts up at the mid-point of Shell’s three offices; the tallest building in Europe, it is the closest thing to ice-climbing that London can provide. I walk to the Shard. Everyone along Borough High Street is moving with their faces turned up, and the people who stop to watch have the faces that children wear at the circus. The sun is in everyone’s eyes. In the hour I am out, I see three pairs of people collide.

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