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Examing the Picture Book The Gruffalo

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1527 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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I chose this text because I enjoyed reading it and believe children will like it as it contains many opportunities for participation due to the repetition. It has a great use of language and incredible illustrations. It will also help them use their imagination.

This humorous, rhyming picture book is a narrative text written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The mouse goes for a stroll in a dark, treacherous forest and smartly creates tales of an unbelievable creature called a gruffalo to frighten off other creatures who want to eat him; however to his amazement he then meets a real gruffalo! ‘The Gruffalo’ is as a picture book designed to be read out loud to children of three upwards, but it can additionally be appropriate for young readers to read this independently. The vocabulary is diverse but not too difficult, and the repetitive sayings will aid those who still require confidence. The language cleverly flows, the pictures are in depth and pleasing to look at, and most significantly, it is a book that young children can really feel occupied and engaged with.

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Structure and content

This is a chronological text, which narrates a series of events as they happen. It follows the most common structure of an opening that establishes setting and introduces characters, leading to a complication and resulting events, before the resolution/ending. The setting is immediately conveyed through the written text on the first line: “A mouse took a stroll through the deep, dark wood,” which is reinforced through the images and colours used. The main character is also introduced, which is important to enable the reader to understand the story and shows the story will be adhering to the common and successful structure of a great deal of small-children’s’ fiction, where by the protagonist(s) encounter a series of events of usually an identical nature.

This is narrated in the third person, so it provides an unbiased viewpoint, allowing the children to become immersed within the world of the story and it also means none of the characters can know what Mouse is really thinking. The reader/ listener is in a better position than the predatory characters in the story as they know more about the way the mouse is thinking than them, which is dramatic irony.

The use of dialogue, repetition and rhythm suggests that the text is written to be read aloud with children and the use of anthropomorphism is used with the protagonist, perhaps to enable the children to relate to the experience and feelings of the character.

In this book the text is placed to the left on all pages. This encourages you to read the text and then explore what is happening through the pictures; however there are a few exceptions. For example we see a series of small pictures showing the parts of the Gruffalo’s body being described by the mouse- there is a picture of tusks, with the narration: “He has terrible tusks” written underneath, which enhances the children’s thoughts of what this creature may look like and enables them to picture the Gruffalo in their minds before they read about it.

Grammatical choices

It is written in the present tense, which adds to children’s involvement of the story because they are going on the journey with the mouse. This is further enhanced by the use of active voice because the focus is on the action of the mouse, which draws the reader in. Simple sentences are also used to gain the reader’s attention, help the children develop their reading skills and understand the story. However it does contain compound sentences: “But who is this creature with terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws? He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.” Using a compound sentence to describe the Gruffalo is a significant part of the story, as the mouse discovers his imaginary character was real. Therefore this description heightens the feeling of adventure by increasing the reader’s awareness.

The connective “and” seems to reinforce the oral tone of the narrative, but connectives are widely used throughout the book to make the narrative flow and to affect the reader/listener.

There are many uses of questions and exclamations in this book. For example every time the mouse meets a new character they always ask: “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?” to which he replies: “A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know?” This shows the animals curiosity and makes them look and feel inferior for not knowing the answer, by the way the mouse replies.

The story is written in rhyming couplets and the pattern tends to be repeated numerous times throughout the story with one or two words changing every time. The entire text is straightforward and naturally flows, which allows the reader to sustain the rhythm. For example: “It’s terribly kind of you, Fox, but no- I’m going to have lunch with a gruffalo.” Furthermore Donaldson utilizes the rhyming to build up to the climax in the middle of the story. The mouse encounters the fox, the owl and the snake and tells them exactly the same story- he cannot go with them because he is off to meet the imaginary and fictional gruffalo, who every time he describes in more vivid detail. They quickly escape in fear, and every time he laughs “there’s no such thing as a gruffalo” until the third occasion, brings him face to face with this creature, and “gruffalo” becomes “gruffal-Oh”. This tension is assisted by the way you have to turn the page to get to the “…Oh!”

Word choice

Few adjectives are used in this text, probably to encourage the reader to use the illustrations to add meaning. Similarly, adverbs are not used, perhaps because verbs used are often specific and therefore do not need description (for example “slid”, “flew”, “sped” etc).

Alliteration is present throughout the book: “terrible teeth”, “knobbly knees”, “turned out toes”, which provides emphasis and allows the description to stick in the children’s minds. In addition to alliteration, there is an abundance of repetition of phrases used every time mouse comes across another animal. Young children will feel able to participate in these instances as they often hear the same lines repeated.


Images are linked with the written text by the common background and natural colour used throughout the text and style of the font. All the way through the book the illustrations are an essential ingredient of the story as with no pictures the listener/reader would not be able to fully grasp their opinions of the characters and would not see the feelings of terror and worry on the faces of the predators and the gruffalo. Many double page illustrations in which mouse frightens off his three predators- the fox, the snake and the owl contain four small illustrations and one larger one, as if only particular features of the gruffalo are known at certain intervals. Additionally the narrative text is dotted over the two pages in sections, which gives the impression that there is similarity between the verbal text and the visual text.

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The font is very clear and is all black; although there is some use of italics for all characters speech besides the mouse, but this aids the reader when reading aloud, as they will know when they need to change their voices. The majority of the time, the text is printed on a white background which enables easy reading. There are, however, several pages where the text is on a yellow-orange background but this is still easily readable due to the colour of the font.

What challenges might children face in reading this text?

A rare feature in this children’s book is a dual twist as books aimed at young children generally do not contain a twist, so they may struggle with the concept of the gruffalo being afraid of the mouse.

The character of the gruffalo may also scare some children.

Use of your text in the classroom

Mouse uses alliteration when speaking to the other animals to explain about the gruffalo: terrible teeth, purple prickles, knobbly knees. Ask students to discuss or write down other words, beginning with the same letter, to describe these body parts. Then they could try using alliteration to describe other parts of the gruffalo’s body such as his head, eyes, ears, legs etc.

Children draw or make their own idea of a gruffalo and describing it like the mouse does.

Drama- acting out the story.

Map making of the wood.

Freeze framing to find out characters thoughts and feelings or writing diary entries for different characters.

Hot seating of the mouse and the gruffalo.

Use the same story pattern of “The Gruffalo” to write another story.


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