The giggles began with the first “hee haw” when YouTube phenomenon Janice Clark (aka the Scottish Granny) stopped by Barnes Noble Union Square in New York City on November 1, to reprise her reading of The Wonky Donkey for a crowd of 130 schoolchildren.
Clark achieved internet stardom when an August 30 video of her reading The Wonky Donkey, written by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley, went viral, propelling the out-of-print 2009 New Zealand picture book to the #1 spot on Barnes Noble’s bestseller list. The video, in which Clark falls into fits of laughter while reading the book to her four-month-old grandson, has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. As PW reported in October, Scholastic recently brought the book back into print in the U.S. with a print run of 900,000 (increased from an initial plan of 50,000 copies).
Barnes Noble event manager Eric Bliss welcomed the children and announced that they would each receive not only a copy of The Wonky Donkey signed by Clark, but also a $25 gift card to be spent after the event, and Tim Mantel, Barnes Noble’s Chief Merchandising Officer, made brief introductory remarks.
The children, ranging in age from three to seven and representing five schools from Staten Island and Manhattan, eagerly participated, echoing back Clark’s spirited “hee haw” throughout the reading. Their laughter filled the fourth-floor event space as Clark, surrounded on stage by a small group of children, gave an expressive reading of the increasingly goofy rhyming text about the “spunky, hanky-panky, cranky, stinky, dinky, lanky, honky-tonky, winky wonky” three-legged donkey. Winking her eye at “one-eyed” and waving her hand in front of her nose at “smelled really, really bad” (one of her favorite parts, she told PW prior to the event), Clark erupted at several points into her signature chuckles.
After the reading, Clark took questions from the audience and posed for photos with each class. Arms shot up into the air and waved energetically during the QA portion of the event. The young attendees focused largely on the basics in their questioning: “What does the donkey actually do at the end of the story?” “What does he do at the beginning?” “Who created the name?” Other questions took a sillier turn, as audience members asked, “What happens if the donkey poops?” and “Why did the donkey smell funny?”
Clark proved quick on her feet in response to the more probing questions. “What happened to his fourth leg?” one child wondered. “I don’t know what happened to his other leg, but he’s got a peg leg, so he might have been a pirate at one time,” Clark replied, eliciting much laughter.
In conversation with PW, Clark described her unexpected fame as “overwhelming.” Her unlikely path to YouTube celebrity status began during a shopping outing with her daughter. “We were looking for some books for the little fellow,” she said, referring to her grandson and video co-star, Archer. “We came across The Wonky Donkey and Fiona said, ‘This is a good book, Mum, we should get this.’ We picked it up for 20 cents.”
“I just completely lost it,” Clark recalled of her first reading of the book. “The illustrations are just absolutely hilarious.”
The Scottish Granny now has her own Facebook page, with more than 60,000 followers. Her YouTube channel, which has more than 16,000 subscribers, includes several other videos of her reading to Archer. Clark said each video features her reading a book for the first time, so as to capture her spontaneous response.
Clark’s fans have her daughter (who acts as videographer) to thank for the Scottish Granny’s continued online presence. “[Fiona] said ‘Mum, people love it. It’s putting people back to reading to their kids,’ and so I said OK, I’d continue to do it,” Clark said.
Clark’s newfound power to influence sales hasn’t gone unnoticed by writers looking for publicity for their own books. “A couple of authors have asked if we were interested in reading their books and quite a few of them have posted us books,” Clark said. “We’re very appreciative of that.”
While the general public has also been vocal in suggesting books they’d like to see her read, Clark’s final selections are determined by her daughter. “Fiona usually picks out the funny ones,” she said. “[Fiona and family] have read them all and know what they’re like and they know what I’m like, so they know what’s going to get a good reaction.”
For her part, Clark still seems surprised and bemused by the public’s reaction, telling PW she doesn’t really know why the videos are so popular: “I’m just me.”
“It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing,” Clark said of the role she’s played in the success of the book. “Until I met these two ladies who wanted me to autograph the book [at the BN event], I just thought, ‘What was all the fuss about really,’ ” she said, adding that the autograph request made her realize “the difference I had made to quite a few people, just for reading a book to my grandson.”