A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?
Well, you should know by now because this year marks the 20th anniversary of The Gruffalo. Alongside Harry Potter, The Gruffalo is one of the best-known books of our generation. And what’s remarkable about that is it shows the power of great storytelling and strong illustration.
This edition features some extras, which makes it worth buying for old fans as well as being a little bit special for the next generation. There is an information section about how the book came together, a section which teaches us how to say ‘Gruffalo’ is multiple languages, a quiz, some ideas about hosting a play and the words to the Gruffalo song.
The sections about the story and the illustration were my favourite. I was delighted to read that the story was inspired by an old tale about a girl who tricks a tiger. What I love about Donaldson’s work more than anything is you can see her knowledge of plot. The way her stories are set-up and resolved is a delight and it is no wonder they have captivated audiences around the world.
The dust jacket also doubles up as a play scene. Take it off, set it up and press out the puppets which are included in the book. (NB. I recommend that an adult does this. It is perfectly safe for children but the puppets can tear. Take extra care with details like mouse’s tail.) I love this idea because I am all children learning that story goes beyond words on a page. I think young children have a very instinctive understanding of this and that they will enjoy taking the characters from The Gruffalo into whole new adventures.
As for the story itself – it is timeless. I can see two readings to the story, one more subversive than the other. The is that an innocent mouse is saved from a hoard of animals and monsters by his quick thinking. The second reading is more subversive. Mouse starts off as a liar, but he’s not so good at it. If he carries on this way we know he will eventually get caught out and eaten. When the Gruffalo comes along, we think the game is up. Mouse, however, defies all expectations. He tells a new story with such flourish and bravado that he sees off all his predators. The second reading of the story says that if you are going to tell a lie, you’ll need to tell it well. I think this is one of the huge attractions of the story and one which is too often forgotten. The very best characters in children’s fiction aren’t the innocent ones. They are the witty ones. The ones who escape on their own cunning.
Now is a great time to buy a copy of The Gruffalo and this edition will appeal to fans old and new. Twenty years is nothing. This one will be around in a hundred and twenty.
Thanks to Macmillain Children’s UK for my copy of The Gruffalo. Opinions my own.