Friday, June 1, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday: The Bully Goat Grim (by Willy Claflin)

It is Fairy Tale Friday!  You may link up your fairy tale themed posts here.  Also, visit my co-host Literary Transgressions.  My post this week is on a brand new fractured fairy tale by Willy Claflin:  The Bully Goat Grim.

Story Summary:
Every full moon, the forest creatures gather together and listen as Maynard Moose shares a tale:  Once upon a time…Bully Goat Grim used his enormous size to frighten the other forest animals.  Whenever he saw a cute, little furry animal, he loved to lower his large, boney head as he charged ahead: “Gaddump, gaddump, gaddump, POW!” Over the tops of the trees the creatures flew and fell to the ground.  Bruised, battered, and broken, the animals all stayed hidden.  Under a foot bridge lived a family of trolls—the mommy (a three headed troll), the daddy (a two-headed troll), and baby (one-headed troll).   This happy family enjoyed being together—wallowing in the mud, visiting the dump, staying up late, and having rude noises contests.  After their late night activities, they slept late each morning.  On one particular day, Bully Goat Grim came trip-trapping across the bridge, which woke up the daddy troll first.  He yelled, “Who’s that trip-trapping on my bridge?”  The goat replied, “Beware, beware, the Bully Goat Grim!  Nobody better not mess with him!”  The daddy troll tried to come up with a solution, but he was not able to. The next day, the same thing happened with the mommy troll.  Finally, the baby troll comes up with a creative idea for dealing with the Bully Goat Grim which not only prevents him from bullying her family but also all the other forest creatures. 

I am an English teacher and editor, so I am particular about grammar and vocabulary.  When I first tried to read this book, I stumbled over the author-created vocabulary and improper grammar (double negatives & superlatives).  Fortunately, there is an audio CD included that has a reading of the book.  After listening to it, I had a greater appreciation of the book.  I would recommend if you plan to read it out loud, you should listen to the CD first.  It is an enormous asset for catching the rhythm and appreciating the unusual vocabulary.  Of course, the improper grammar usage provides a teaching opportunity--formal or informal--and it is part of the characterization.

There are several noteworthy features of this creative narrative.  First, the author defies stereotypes.  The traditionally cute, fluffy billy goat becomes the aggressor while the typical mean trolls are a loving family.   Next, the youngest troll is the one who is able to solve the problem.  I like this aspect because it does empower children, but at the same time, youngsters need to be reassured that parents/adults can be wonderful resources to help with problem solving.  Finally, the main theme of the book is related to bullying.  While the solution in the story could not be replicated in real life, the idea of it could be.  When one person stood up to Bully Goat Grim, it gave the other victims courage to also stand tall and defuse the “power” he had over them. 

Artist James Stimson brilliantly utilizes his illustrations to capture and to extend the narrative.  Bully Goat Grim is white with black spots and exaggerated horns on his head.  These choices are significant.  First, the horns (the symbol of torture/bullying) are overstated because to the victims, the fists or person can seem larger than life.   Also, by making the goat mostly white (the color of purity and innocence), Stimson is again resisting stereotypes, revealing that outward appearances can often be incomplete or inaccurate.  Many of the scenes are colored in neutrals and greys, indicating a gloomy mood during the pinnacle of his bullying influence.  Once the animals are free of the oppression, the scenes are bright and cheerful. 

The Bully Goat Grim is a complex and interesting read, ripe with opportunities to extend and to discuss.  I recommend this book for ages 7 and up.  This title will not be released until August 16, 2012, but you can pre-order here soon..  

Teaching Opportunities:
  • Literature:  compare and contrast with a traditional telling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff and/or other modern tellings
  • Character Education:  use as a springboard for discussing bullying--causes, solutions, and other aspects
  • Grammar:  read as you begin teaching or reviewing double negatives or superlatives (more, most)
  • Vocabulary/Word Meaning:  evaluate the author-created words; identify word parts that are comparable to familiar words to the student to help predict word meaning (context clues can also be used to help)
  • Language:  create your own word(s) using word parts and meanings of 2-3 words; then, write a sentence(s) showing the word(s) in context
  • Writing:  write an original version of the story or an alternate ending as a class, in groups, or individually
  • Social Studies:  examine the map of the forest together (such as how are landmarks and geographical features depicted); teach grade-appropriate map skills and/or allow students to create their own maps of a fictional or a real place
  • Visit my Pinterest page with links to dozens of fairy tale-related activities around the web
You can link up below for Fairy Tale Friday.

Disclaimer: As per FTC guidelines, I received a copy of this book from the publisher or author in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. 


  1. This sounds really fun! I love fractured fairytales!

    Here's my contribution this week:

    Thanks for hosting!

  2. +JMJ+

    Hi! I found this meme today and have something to link up: Faerie Tale Face-off: The Forgotten Princess vs. Sleeping Beauty. Thanks for hosting! =)

    The twist in The Bully Goat Grim of having a troll family makes them seem like the Three Bears, aye? And that reminds me: I've never liked Goldilocks. =( She totally owes those poor bears an apology--and a new chair! She may not be a bully, but she's an entitled little princess-type who thinks she can do no wrong. We could say she's a Mean Girl in the making!

  3. I like that the story breaks a lot of stereotypes. I think the teaching points you mentioned are excellent ones!



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