The Gruffalo Book Review

A Terrific Kids' Book to Read Aloud

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Penguin Random House

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It's not surprising that The Gruffalo, first published in 1999, continues to be a popular read aloud. The author, Julia Donaldson, has written a good story with such strong rhythm and rhyme that it just begs to be read aloud. The illustrations by Axel Scheffler are filled with bold color, detail and appealing characters.

Summary of the Story

The Gruffalo is the story of a clever mouse, three large animals that want to eat him and an imaginary monster, a Gruffalo, who turns out to be only too real.

What's a mouse to do when on a walk in the "deep dark wood," he is confronted first by a fox, then by an owl and, finally, by a snake, all of whom seem to be intent on inviting him for a meal, with the mouse as the main dish? The mouse tells each of them that he is on his way to a feast with a Gruffalo.

The mouse's description of the fierce Gruffalo who would want to eat them scares the fox, the owl, and the snake away. Each time he scares one of the animals away, the mouse says, "Doesn't he know? There's no such thing as a Gruffalo!"

Imagine the mouse's surprise when the monster of his imagination appears right before him in the woods and says, "You'll taste good on a slice of bread!" The clever mouse comes up with a strategy to convince the Gruffalo that he (the mouse) is "the scariest creature in this deep dark wood." How the mouse fools the Gruffalo after fooling the fox, the owl and the snake makes a very satisfying story.

A Good Book to Read Aloud

Besides the rhythm and the rhyme, some of the other things that make The Gruffalo a good book for reading aloud to young children are the repetition, which encourages children to chime in, and the story arc, with the first half of the story about the mouse fooling the fox, then the owl, then the snake with tales of the imaginary gruffalo and the second half of the story when the mouse fools the real Gruffalo with the unsuspecting help of the snake, the owl, and the fox.

Kids also like the fact that the 1-2-3 order of the mouse's meeting the fox, the owl and the snake becomes a 3-2-1 order as the mouse walks back to the edge of the woods, followed by the Gruffalo.

The Author, Julia Donaldson

Julia Donaldson grew up in London and attended Bristol University where she studied Drama and French. Before writing children's books, she was a teacher, a songwriter, and a street theater performer.

In June 2011, Julia Donaldson was named the 2011-2013 Waterstone's Children's Laureate in the UK. According to the 6/7/11 announcement, "The role of the Children's Laureate is awarded once every two years to an eminent writer or illustrator of children's books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field." Donaldson has written more than 120 books and plays for kids and teens.

The Gruffalo, one of Julia Donaldson's first children's books, is also one of her most popular children's picture books. Others include  Room on the Broom, Stick Man, The Snail and the Whale and What the Ladybird Heard.

The Illustrator, Axel Scheffler

Axel Scheffler was born in Germany and attended the University of Hamburg but left there to move to England where he studied illustration and earned a degree at the Bath Academy of Art.

Axel Scheffler has illustrated a number of Julia Donaldson's books in addition to The Gruffalo. They include Room on the Broom, The Snail and the Whale, Stick Man and Zog.

Book and Animation Awards

Among the awards the creators of The Gruffalo picture book have been honored with are the 1999 Smarties Gold Medal Award for picture books and the 2000 Blue Peter Award for The Best Book to Read Aloud. The animated version of The Gruffalo, which is available on DVD, was nominated for both an Oscar and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award and won the audience award at the Canadian Film Centre's Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Delight Your Child With a Story Sack

If your child loves The Gruffalo, you'll want to create a story sack for of crafts and related items. These can include other books by Julia Donaldson about the Gruffalo; mouse, owl, snake and fox crafts; a monster craft and more.

Review and Recommendation

The story of the clever mouse and the Gruffalo is one that children ages 3 to 6 love hearing again and again. The rhythm and rhyme of Julia Donaldson's story, along with the strong story arc, make The Gruffalo an excellent read aloud. Children quickly learn to help the reader tell the story and that adds to the fun for all. The dramatic illustrations by Axel Scheffler, with their bold colors and appealing characters, from the little mouse to the huge Gruffalo, add greatly to the book's appeal. (Dial Books for Young Readers, A Division of Penguin Putnam Inc., 1999. ISBN: 9780803731097)

Sources: Children's Laureate site, Julia Donaldson site, Children's Book Illustration: Axel Scheffler, The Hollywood Reporter