The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Three Billy Goats Gruff Book Poster Image
Classic tale given new, thoughtful ending and exquisite art.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

New vocabulary in context of story: "flourished," "trotted," "hearty," "scrawny," "stormed," "bellowed." Action words pulled out in print for kids to repeat and recognize: "BAM!" "SPLASH!" "GULP!" "TRIP TRAP!" "CRACK!" Word "BEWARE" printed on sign. Visual information about landscapes (rocky vs. lush and green).

Positive Messages

You can stand up to bullies and to greed. Bullies can rethink their behavior and attitudes. We can reflect on our behavior and choices and learn to get along.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The billy goats stand up to the greedy goat. Each figures out a clever way to get past him and cross the bridge. After getting his comeuppance, the troll takes the opportunity to change. Art suggests that the troll and goats come up with a way to live and work together in peace.

Violence & Scariness

The troll threatens to gobble up the goats. The biggest goat crashes down the gate barring the bridge and head-butts the troll into the water. The troll's almost eaten by a big fish but escapes.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney (The Lion & the Mouse) is a gorgeously illustrated, beautifully told version of the classic folk tale that spins the end a bit differently. In an author's note, Pinkney says he "longed for the story to be more than a cautionary tale or a revenge story." He gives the the troll a chance to climb out of the water and reflect on what he's done, and perhaps change, and his final art provides readers with clues to what happens. Because the goats initially figure out how to stand up to the nasty troll, the story provides an opportunity for families to talk about bullying and strategies for dealing with it. The art is lush and rich with lots of detail for readers to pore over, making this an excellent version of the tale.

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What's the story?

In THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF, three hungry goats live on the rocky side of a bridge. They want to get to the other side where there's plenty of grass, but a mean troll guards the bridge. When the smallest, youngest goat tries to cross, the troll wants to gobble him up, but the littlest goat tells him to wait for the next billy goat: "He’s much bigger than me." The second, bigger goat crosses using the same tack. And when the third, really large, goat crosses, he butts the troll off the bridge and into the water, where he's almost eaten by a very large fish: "But the troll was probably a bit too sour and green to make a tasty meal." As the troll climbs onto the shore, he sees lots of goats now freely crossing the bridge. The art shows him then making a new house, this time on the rocky side.

Is it any good?

This classic tale featuring a greedy "troll with a heart of stone" is action-packed and lovingly illustrated and brims with emotional resonance. Pinkney's pencil-and-watercolor art makes The Three Billy Goats Gruff a triumph. He excels at drawing animals, making them realistically animal-like and expressive at the same time. The faces of his goats are sweetly appealing, while his troll is suitably scary, a gnarled green creature with fangs, claw-like nails, and a snapping lion's tail. He also pulls out lots of action words -- "SPLASH!" "GULP!" -- to enliven the telling and adds a foldout page to extend the fun when the biggest goat crashes the gate -- "BAM!"

But the real coup is that Pinkney manages to give the story a more thoughtful ending without taking the bite out of it. The goats do triumph, and the troll does get his comeuppance, but he doesn't die or disappear, and the art sagely suggests that the end of the book might actually be a new beginning for the troll and goats. This story, with lots of opportunities for repetition and prediction, preserves the fun of the beloved original while inviting discussions about greed, bullying, and chances to change.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the three goats in The Three Billy Goats Gruff. How does each one get across the bridge differently? If someone blocks your way, what are some possible ways you could handle it?

  • Have you read other versions of this classic folk tale? How is this one different? How is the ending different?

  • On the last page, can you tell what the troll's doing, even though there's no text? Do the images on the endpapers (the flaps on the inside covers) give you more information about the troll and goats?

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