The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book
There is no such thing as a Gruffalo?? But of course there isn't; even in the world containing many a thing that had terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible claws, you would be hard pushed to find a creature who could, additionally, boast knobbly knees, and turned out toes, And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose and whose eyes are orange, whose tongue is black; who has purple prickles all over his back.
The creature is, in fact, a figment of imagination of a little clever mouse, who manages to ward off numerous animals seeing him as a potential dinner ( a fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good) by convincing them that he is just about to meet the aforementioned Gruffalo.
Thus armed with his story, the mouse strolls happily through the deep dark wood, secure in his knowledge that a Gruffalo indeed doesn't exist. Imagine his surprise when, after scaring away the last of the carnivores, the mouse sees, oh, yes, The Gruffalo himself, in all his brown, furry, knobbly, purple-prickly and orange-eyed glory. The Gruffalo has definitely bad intentions, but the mouse manages to persuade him that it's him, the little mouse that is the scariest creature in the wood, and that gruffalo crumble is his favourite food. The Gruffalo runs away and all is quiet in the deep dark wood, the mouse found a nut and the nut was good.
The Gruffalo is another very successful collaboration between writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler (I can recommend The Smartest Giant in Town). It follows the familiar and successful formula of so much of small-children fiction, where the protagonist(s) go through a series of events of essentially the same nature, but fleshed out differently each time - in The Gruffalo it's the mouse meeting the Fox, the Owl and the Snake - and of course the Gruffalo.
It is nicely and vividly illustrated, with colourful, realistic pictures done in a slightly child-mannered style. I am not overtly fond of Scheffler's pictures, but it doesn't grate and it suits the text very well.
The text is the signature Donaldson's rhyme, simple, rhythmical, naturally flowing, mimicking prose to the extent that you often forget it's a rhymed book, you just read it and the rhyme is there, helping you to maintain the rhythm and melody of speech.
This book has been deemed a 'modern classic' and won several awards. There is a bit of Gruffalo industry now, with Gruffalo club, Gruffalo song and also probably some Gruffalo merchandise available. The Gruffalo has certainly heaps of appeal for both parents and children.
The title monster is a creature of genius; the rhyme is great; it reads well; the story has a double twist which is rare in books for little children which usually have no twists at all.
My daughter who was over 3 years old at the time of writing was introduced to the Gruffalo at the age of 2 and a half, and I would say that it was perhaps a bit too early. She did enjoy the book, she got suitably mildly scared of the Gruffalo and enamoured of the mouse. However, the complicated web of double-deceit spun by the mouse was very difficult to understand for a young pre-schooler who had not really learned to lie herself yet (in the sense that she had no ability to grasp the fact that other people might not know something she does). She eventually grasped the fact that the Mouse was lying to the animals about Gruffalo; but I suspect even at three she still didn't really understand why Gruffalo himself got scared of the Mouse in the second half of the story.
Does it matter? Well, I don't think it does, really. In fact one of the good things about the book is that it can be used to teach about 'other minds' and beliefs (and fibs and fantasies). The perfect audience for The Gruffalo would be children between 3 and a half and 6 years old.
The Gruffalo is, indeed, a good candidate for a classic, and a book I would definitely recommend. It is great fun, the moral message of using your imagination and brain power (read: lying) to protect oneself from predators slightly dubious but very entertaining (there is even a little lesson about crying wolf a rebours).
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is in the Top Ten Timeless Picture Books To Treasure Forever.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson at Amazon.com.
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Angela Scrivener said:
I never liked this book until Julia read it to an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year. It made me see the book in a different light and use it a lot within work for the children.
Tracy B said:
I agree with the comment regarding the age this book should be introduced, my daughter was also 3 and suitably scared of the Gruffalo with no idea about the concept of lying. However, I think this is a very clever book with an equally clever sequel 'The Gruffalo's child'. Both books are much loved in our house and read over and over again to the point where the children can recite it without me!