The Three Billy Goats Gruff

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Basic Plot Summary: Three goats have eaten all the grass in their field and want to travel to a bigger meadow on the other side of a bridge. But the bridge is home to a vicious troll who threatens to eat anyone attempting to cross it. The smallest goat goes across first and when the troll stops him, he tells the troll to wait for the next goat, who is much bigger. The troll lets him pass and then stops the bigger goat who follows him. But this goat also promises that a bigger goat is coming, so once again, the troll lets him cross. The final goat is the largest and he challenges the troll to a fight and knocks him off the bridge, where he floats downriver, freeing the bridge for anyone to cross as they please.

This story was originally collected and published in the mid 1800’s by Norwegian folk tale collectors Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (a teacher) and Jørgen Moe (a minister), who were inspired by the Brothers Grimm to gather and preserve the stories of Scandinavia. Versions of this same story showed up in lots of other country’s folklore, but it appears that its true origins lie in Norway. I always considered the story to be scary when I was little, most likely due to the troll, who is usually described as hideous or terrible. The story is frequently referenced in other media and has been adapted for film and television.

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The Three Billy Goats Gruff – This version, written and illustrated by Paul Galdone, is part of the Folk Tale Classics series. It features all the details I remembered about the story, including the troll’s cry of ‘Who’s that tripping over my bridge?’ The text makes a special point of telling us that the goats were named Gruff, which would have been beneficial to my younger self, who expected the goats to have gruff personalities and was confused when they didn’t. The artwork has a very 70’s feel, which made me feel nostalgic for my elementary school library.  (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1973)

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The Three Silly Girls Grubb – Husband and wife team John and Ann Hassett bring this story into the real world and sprinkle it liberally with humor. The Grubb girls are sisters who range in size from small to extra-large (which looks like it means tall, not overweight) and the troll is replaced by a bully called ‘Ugly-Boy Bobby’ who hides under the bridge to try and steal their lunches. Instead of fighting him at the end, the oldest girl says she wants to kiss him and this sends him scampering back to school, where he changes his ways. It’s a cute take on the original. (Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

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The Rockabilly Goats Gruff – In this fun and clever spin on the original story, author/illustrator Jeff Crosby gives each one of these goats a new name (Billy Lee, Billy Joe and Billy Bob), a souped-up hot rod and a musical instrument. Instead of crossing the bridge to eat grass, they’re on their way to play a gig at the Shimmy Shack. The troll still wants to eat them, but they bring him along to their show and feed him some barbecue and eventually he gets with the beat. The acrylic, watercolor and crayon artwork reflects the same playful fun of the story, making the whole book a rockin’ good read.  (Holiday House, 2014)

And what did we learn? What I take away from The Three Billy Goats Gruff is that you can sometimes talk yourself out of trouble, but eventually the trouble will have to be dealt with.

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