Books often have a time and a place in life. With the Gruffalo, it was winter evenings when our two sons were much younger. (Now they have evolved from the Gruffalo to merely gruff.)
Winters in Austria arrive with a capital W. Temperatures below -10°C (14°F) are not unusual, so trips with toddlers always demand careful planning and multiple layers of clothing. All of which would be fine were it not for the existence of gloves.
After teasing the final four fingers and a thumb into five knitted holes, the other hand would have already reversed the process to leave me sighing like a modern-day Sisyphus. Mittens were the obvious solution, but my kids rejected them as a parental ruse to hinder them from grasping anything.
Those were the days when my wife and I were storytellers, too, and not just taxi drivers, cooks and the laundry service. So, in the evenings after the park, the boys would tuck up warm and listen to tales of the Tickle Monster and, of course, the Gruffalo.
In a Guardian interview, the Gruffalo’s author – Julia Donaldson – said:
It upsets me when I’m trying to read a rhyming story to my
grandchildren and I can’t immediately see where the stress
should fall…I try my very best to make it trip off the tongue
There are many great things about the book (e.g. Axel Scheffler’s illustrations), but the “read-out-loudable” nature of the words is top of the list. My boys squealed in delight at “purple prickles” and “turned-out toes”. A two-line phrase, in particular, became a ritualised chant embedded forever in our memory. I just quoted the first line to my youngest (now 15):
All was quiet in the deep dark wood…
“And the mouse fell asleep?” he suggested. Ah well, maybe not so deeply embedded after all. But whenever I find a nut, it is always good.