Do you know a Gruffalo?
About 20 years ago, while browsing a bookstore in Edinburgh, Scotland, I stumbled on a new children’s picture book entitled The Gruffalo by UK author/illustrator team Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, not yet published “across the pond.”
What in the world is a Gruffalo? I wondered, opening the intriguing cover and turning the colorful pages. I was hooked and bought the book. This, now-classic, soon debuted in the U.S. and became an international, award-winning bestseller with over 14 million copies in print worldwide, an Oscar-nominated animated film and a stage musical performed o7 Broadway. It was also voted England’s favorite bedtime story!
So, what is a Gruffalo? He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose. He has terrible tusks and terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.
Not to mention … His eyes are orange; his tongue is black. He has purple prickles all over his back.
Okay. So, he’s kinda scary. But, what does this have to do with bravery?
As the story goes, an intrepid, tiny mouse sets out for a peaceful walk in the woods. Soon, he attracts several hungry predators: Fox, Owl and Snake. Each hope to snatch him up for a delicious snack. The resourceful mouse conjures up a frightful, imaginary beast to scare away his foes. Little does he know, there’s a REAL Gruffalo lurking! When they cross paths, suddenly the mouse is face-to-face with a giant surprise and the ultimate challenge. Will his clever scheme backfire or work to save himself?
The familiar moral of this whimsical, rhyming tale is … no matter how small or how big you are, you can get yourself out of any situation … with proper wits and courage and bravery.
A classic picture book is timeless and delights audiences for generations. Recently, The Vail Public Library chose The Gruffalo as their feature title to showcase for the summer in Bighorn Park in East Vail. The StoryWalk Project is a national program created by Anne Ferguson (Montpelier, VT) and made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and, locally, through the Colorado State Library. The Friends of the Vail Public Library and the Town of Vail also sponsor their free program.
Just like the mighty mouse in the story, children and adults can set out for a walk in the woods, follow a path around a pond, read the story and savor the illustrations on sequential panels along the way. It’s wonderful to share together, with theme activities suggested at the end.
I spent a fun afternoon at this StoryWalk revisiting one of my favorite picture books, also keeping a watchful eye over my shoulder just in case the Gruffalo decided to follow me!
So, if you don’t know the Gruffalo, don’t be afraid to get acquainted! Discover his story at your local bookstore or library. And, hopefully, you can find a StoryWalk program in your neighborhood for ongoing entertainment. Or, consider starting one; there’s always space for more!
Photos by Sandy Fuller.
Originally published in Winter + Spring 2022-23 issue.