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The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Authored by Retold by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jo Klassen
Published by Scholastic

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The Three Billy Goats Gruff: Having enjoyed other books by the prize-winning duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klasson, I was eager to read this latest offering. It did not disappoint! The Three Billy Goats Gruff largely follows the structure of the well-known traditional tale, but the addition of humour through words and pictures plus the clever use of scale and page turns give it a fresh appeal. The delightfully dark endpapers set the scene: a murky river littered with skulls, long bones, rib cages, old boots and tin cans.

We meet the troll as he’s poised under the bridge, knife and fork in hand and a napkin tied around his neck. A tally chart on the wooden post behind him suggests that it had been 18 long days since his last proper meal. And what had the troll found to sustain him in the meanwhile? He had been eating wax scraped out of his ears with a filthy fingernail and ‘goop he’d found in his belly button’.

The first and second billy goats manipulate their way across the bridge, leaving the troll eagerly awaiting the biggest and tastiest brother. The third billy goat is revealed to the reader before the troll notices him. He is so gigantic that only his hairy front legs can be seen in the frame. We know at this point that there will be no goat supper for the troll today! After a brief but hilarious exchange of words (‘I… Wow. You’re really big’.) the troll is deftly knocked off the bridge and disappears down three progressively larger waterfalls (The Big Waterfall, The Huge Waterfall and The Really Enormous Waterfall).

A serene illustration of the three billy goats grazing safely on the grassy bank at sunset leaves us feeling content, but also laughing again at the comedic size of the third brother. A few children in my class said that they would have liked the story to end with the troll apologising to the goats, forging a friendship with them and deciding to become a vegetarian.

This is a perfect book to read aloud in EYFS, KS1 and KS2. Children can join in with the troll’s repetitive, rhyming verse, gasp at the size of the third goat and be joyfully repulsed by the troll’s disgusting habits. They might also like to add their own ideas to the gastronomic list of goat delicacies (goat smorgasbord, goat smeared on toast, goat kale salad – hold the kale…).