The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler

POINTS: 4 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 2 point

I had never read this book before and I am utterly charmed by it. It’s wonderful. There’s no Bechdel pass, and no diversity – all the characters are animals and are either male or not gendered at all.

But despite all that, this book is a little work of genius, in my not-so-humble opinion. It’s written in rhyme which is one of those things that is so often done badly in kids’ books that when you come across a book that makes it seem totally effortless it sort of makes you want to stand up and cheer. And this is one of those books. Perfect metre, doesn’t feel forced at all, it’s absolutely perfectly crafted linguistically, which makes it a total pleasure to read. I just reread it before writing this, and it made me smile all over again. There’s something so satisfying about well written rhyme.

The illustrations are also absolutely beautiful. Bright and bold and everything you could want in a children’s book.

And then there’s the story. Which really, pushes all my narrative buttons. It has all the best qualities of a fairy tale – three things there and three things back; laying the groundwork in the first half for the things that save you in the second. And this quick thinking trickster mouse! Well, I mean, I have a thing for tricksters, as you may know, but who doesn’t love this little guy? He makes up a story about a monster to avoid being eaten, and then uses the very story he told to prove to the monster he invented that he’s the “scariest thing” in the woods. It’s perfectly balanced, beautifully structured, and gleeful in its trickery.

Yes, I am gushing, but it is very rare for me to find a book that hits so many of the things that make me love it. This book totally deserves its beloved state, in my opinion. Ideologically, it falls into the “brains over brawn” camp -surviving by cleverness and trickery, which is a long and noble tradition in folklore that goes all the way back to Aesop. I’ve always had a weakness for these characters, and this is no exception.

Read it. Buy it. Enjoy it with your kids. I strongly suspect that it’ll absolutely survive multiple readings as well.

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