Rod Campbell’s immensely successful children’s book, Dear Zoo, which has sold eight million copies in twenty different languages, nearly failed to see the light of day.

“When I was younger, I tried to make it as a painter,” he explains.

“I had no money. I lived in friends’ attics, and moved ten times in eight years. I made ends meet by doing painting and decorating.”

Determined to make it as a painter, he had no thought of being a children’s author.

“Then someone whose sister worked at a children’s publishing house saw some of my drawings. I was introduced to them and asked to illustrate some simple books for the under-fives. This act of kindness started me on a career in children’s books – serendipity, one could say.”

Rod recalls that, at the time: “One voice in my head was saying, ‘But you’re an artist with a capital A. You can’t possibly do that.’ But another voice in my head was saying, ‘Why not? It looks like great fun.’ The second voice prevailed, thank goodness.”

Soon afterwards, the publishers Blackie expressed an interest in his work, and the rest is history.

Now, having established himself as one of the most successful children’s authors in the UK, at the age of 72 Rod is entering a brave new world.

Produced by Norwell Lapley Productions and directed by Michael Gattrell, Dear Zoo Live on Stage is coming to The Alban Arena on Tuesday 23 April.

Realised through wonderfully engaging puppets, original music and lots of audience interaction, it will immediately attract families and children who are already fans of the book. But it will also act as a splendid introduction to those discovering the story for the first time.

Borehamwood Times:

The show, which toured successfully in 2018, will be touring the country once again in 2019.

Rod has found the process of writing a play quite an eye-opener. He admits that the job of transferring his story to the stage was, at times, challenging.

But the author emerged from the process with a tremendous sense of pleasure at having mastered an entirely new skill. Rod declares that: “It’s been a wonderful experience.

“I have really enjoyed solving problems, and it’s been a great delight to learn something new. I’ve learned a whole new language, including phrases as simple as ‘upstage’ and ‘downstage’. When I wrote, ‘exit stage left’, a frisson ran down my spine!”

Above all, in creating the play, Rod was anxious to remain as faithful as possible to the essence of his book.

The author explains: “The stage show will play on the thrill of opening the crates.

“Children up to the age of six love the animals and they also love the guesswork – ‘What’s in the box?’”

It is that curiosity, Rod believes, which has ensured that the book has remained so popular. “Children have a great curiosity about what’s behind the flap. They love to open the flaps again and again.

“Of course, they know what’s behind each one, but every time they approach it as though they don’t. For every child each time is like the first time.”

The Alban Arena, Civic Centre, St Albans, Tuesday, April 23, 1.30pm and 3.30pm, and Wednesday, April 24, 11am and 2pm. Details: 01727 844488