• Happy birthday David Shannon (No, David!), Peter Ackroyd (Voyages Through Time series), and Carson Friedman Ellis (The Mysterious Benedict Society).
  • It’s the birth date of Louise Fitzhugh (1928-1974), Harriet the Spy, and Gene Zion (1913-1975), Harry the Dirty Dog.
  • This day in 1582 never happened in Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain due to Gregorian Calendar. Read The Story of Clocks and Calendars by Betsy Maestro and Giulio Maestro.
  • In 1921 baseball’s World Series is broadcast on radio for the first time. Read The World Series by Matt Christopher.
  • It’s Do Something Nice Day. Read Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, and A Tree is Nice by Janice Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont.
  • It’s Balloons Around the World Day. Read The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse, My Red Balloon by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Kay Life, and Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois.

For the upcoming Great Books Week, I want to look at the work of Paul Galdone. In his lifetime, Paul received very little critical praise for his books, although he did garner two Caldecott Honors for Eve Titus’s Anatole and Anatole and the Cat. Beginning in the fifties, he illustrated the work of others for many years, including Ellen MacGregor’s fabulous Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars. How I wish that gem were still in print!

But Paul would become loved for his renditions of classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales. At a time when such books formed the backbone of all publishing lists, Paul’s basic retellings of classic tales stood out as the most popular in a very crowded field. It is easy to forget today that in the eighties the children’s literature market was full of retold fairy tales. I was editor of the Horn Book during this time, and Walter Lorraine at Houghton once wrote to me suggesting that I run an article “Fairy Tales: Who Needs ’Em.” Certainly by the mid-nineties publishers had decided that they didn’t. Only in the past few years have we seen an increase in fairy-tale retellings—although, admittedly, many of our offerings for children today can best be described as fractured fairy tales.

But not Paul Galdone’s. He retold his work in a straightforward manner, going for the essence of the stories. Hence when Children’s Books and Their Creators appeared in 1995, the essay on Galdone talked about how his books have “aged well and remain the old reliables of folk literature.” Sixteen years later they are still the old reliables. If you are hunting for a version of a folktale as you remember it, you can do no better than pick up a Galdone retelling. I have always thought that The Three Billy Goats Gruff is a great place to begin when looking at the Galdone canon.

“Once upon a time there were three Billy Goats. They lived in a valley and the names of all three Billy Goats was ‘Gruff.’” On a double-page spread, readers are greeted with three winsome goats, each with distinct personalities, coats, markings, and horns. All look directly at the viewer. Then the three goats try to get to the meadow across a bridge, guarded by a very ugly troll. The text is spare; action occurs on every page; the language is repetitive; and the essence of the story is captured. This Galdone rendition relies on sound storytelling principles. You can read the text a hundred times if necessary—and if the children in your life have anything to say about it, you might have to.

Paul Galdone created books at a time when “high art” picture books received all the accolades. But his enduring legacy, in books like The Three Billy Goat Gruff, is to remind us that children always love a good story, well told, that cuts to the heart of the matter.

Here’s a page from The Three Billy Goats Gruff:


Originally posted October 5, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Folktale
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Three Billy Goats Gruff


  1. Star says:

    I have loved every single one of Galdone’s books that I’ve read. I find that my kids prefer his telling of the classic stories over all others and they know where to find his books in the library, too!

  2. Barbara Buescher says:

    As a recently retired elementary school librarian, I share your assessment of Paul Galdone. His books are amazing in a group story setting where story, pictures, and the reading voice never fail to enthrall an entire class. Some of the full page spreads in Billy Goats are amazing (Big Billy Goat, the Troll). Watching the faces of children who were not read to at home respond to Galdone’s books always showded me that what I did really mattered. Of course my own children loved the books as well. They’ve aged well — the books and my children!

  3. Melody says:

    I am nodding my head vigorously in agreement, Anita. What fun are the fractured tales if you have not been exposed to the originals? And when you say, “Children always love a good story, well told,” I feel too many of the “high art” books lost any sense of the narrative flow that appeals to young listeners.

  4. McCourt says:

    I just recently found this book from my childhood when sorting through our many bookshelves. I have enjoyed sharing it with my son, who is just as fascinated by the pictures of the troll as I was. And Melody, what a great point about needing to know the original story before really appreciating fractured fairy tales. So true!

  5. sharon says:

    Thank goodness for Paul Galdone. He’s my go to guy when people ask for folk/fairytales for preschoolers.

  6. Sharon says:

    This year I had the pleasure of weeding the Gs. Galdone’s books, and we have many, consistently went out. Every duplicate copy had multiple circulations in the previous year, which made my job a breeze. But…provided me with the question: weed for condition? Nope. These titles are hard to get, we decided to keep the books til they die their natural death.

    Which poses my question: why/when will these be re-published?

  7. I loved this book when I was a child. I’m glad you are highlighting it, Anita, and also appreciating an artist who wasn’t always given attention, but definitely contributed to the children’s book world!

  8. leda says:

    I must have read this book 1000 times when I ran a preschool a million years ago. I still have it memorized. It’s one of the best read-alouds of all time, and the illustrations are full of energy. Aren’t all these books being reissued? I think I saw a bunch somewhere.

  9. Anita says:

    Sharon and Leda: They were reissued with new covers a couple of years back. You can now get fresher copies for your collection!

  10. Fran in Texas says:

    We read the Anatole books over and over at home with our daughters, as well as enjoyed King of the Cats and The Teeny-Tiny Woman. The school library where I later was librarian couldn’t keep The Little Red Hen, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and The Gingerbread Boy on the shelf (even with multiple copies of each!). And Taily-Po was a really great Halloween read-aloud for the younger kids. I’m so glad we have all had Galdone’s books in our lives.

  11. Preethi Soman says:

    I also remember reading this book so many times when I was a preschool teacher. It never got old and the children enjoyed chiming along to the parts when the troll speaks and making the “trip, trap” sounds. It was great fun and very memorable.

  12. Brigitte says:

    I absolutely agree. I didn’t discover him until I was a middle-aged new librarian working at an elementary school. I think his telling and his illustrations are spot-on. They don’t seem dated to me. I often recommend him to parents at the public library where I am now.

  13. Mary says:

    The fresh new editions of Paul Galdone’s fairy tales are circulating well at my public library. They are smaller in size and very inexpensive to purchase. Classics all!

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