Saturday, March 16, 2013

SOLSC #16 Three Billy Goats Gruff

Two Writing TeachersSlice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC)

I suggested The Three Billy Goats Gruff (by Paul Galdone) to Laura for a read-aloud this week, knowing how much my threes' have loved this story in years past...the creepy, mean troll, the witty brother goats, the tough oldest brother goat.   (It is important to emphasize that the book is fiction and trolls do not exist.) It is always a good segue into some great conversations about the way we treat one another.

This year was no different - the children were transfixed as Laura used a variety of voices as she read the story, with a deep, tough troll voice being pivotal to the telling. The children were excited about how brave the goats were. 

Then, some twenty minutes later, as we were eating lunch, a preschooler let out a wail and cried, "Ms. Ingram! I did NOT want to hear that story!" and she began sobbing.  Yes, she had been sitting there processing that story and was not at all happy with her thoughts.  I went immediately to her side to comfort her, encouraging her classmates to help comfort, as well - "Children, what might we say to make her feel better?" I was delighted with their words and actions - one student ran to get a comfort "lovey" toy, others said - "That is not a real troll! There's no such thing as trolls."  I helped her dissect the fiction of the story, while giving her a big hug - "Do goats talk? See, there's a sign this book is pretend!" and I apologized to her for reading something that scared her so, noting she had been very brave to sit through the story.

I did feel so badly that this had scared her, and I spoke to her mother at pickup, to let her know about the story and its effects.  

I puzzled over what to do next. To hide the story, to refuse to tell it again, to avoid upsetting her, is to - in my opinion - feed the fear.  It sends the message - yes, you are right, this is very, very, very scary.  I think it is important that we not let these fears grow in preschoolers' minds. It's not about avoiding these classic tales but about helping children process these.

Years ago, recognizing the power of the story with preschoolers, I had taken the time to create cardstock replicas of the story for a flannelboard experience. 

I decided to share these with this preschooler, so that she might manipulate the characters herself - to be "in charge" of the storytelling and no longer soured by the experience. The next day, during centers, I took this sweet preschooler aside and said, "I remember how scared you were about the story yesterday, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  I made you something that I think might help you see the fun in the story, to not be scared of it - I have drawn the pictures for you. They are here in this special envelope - it is a flannel board, like we have of the Three Little Pigs. Would you like to see them? So that you can see that the silly old troll is made out of paper? He is not real at all."

She and I looked through the pieces together, one by one.  I said, "See, I drew rocks and a bridge, the green grass, the three billy goats, and the scary troll - look at this guy! Isn't he funny looking? Do you think I drew him right?"

"Why does he have such long hair? That's not right."

"Oh, you think I didn't draw the right kind of troll? Hmmm.  Yes, I'm still working on how to draw.  Do you like his arms?"

"They have two colors.  Why did you do two colors?"

"I wanted him to be a silly troll.  Silly old troll."

"Hmmm. May I hold him?"

"Oh, yes! Yes, you can!" I said, trying to swallow my delight.  We were conquering her fear.  What a thing to watch. 

 Next, she picked up the goats, one by one and re-told the story, making her voice deep with the big billy goat - "Don't eat me!

I interjected, "Wow, you said that so strong!  You are brave like that big goat! Are you going to push the troll into the water, like in the story?"

"Oh, yeah!" she said, with a laugh. 

Over and over she worked with the story pieces, and classmates joined in, wanting to play different roles with her.  I explained, "She's in charge of the storytelling today - if you want to play with these story pieces today, you must ask her what character you can be, first."

"I am the troll," she said, confidently.


  1. The story is one of my favorites. I love how you worked out the story and she overcame her fear.

  2. Haven't I already said how wise you are, Maureen. So happy to hear about this, that nothing is hidden, perhaps put away at times, but out again sometimes. Nice story to hear!

  3. “Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

    I am clapping and cheering. Yes yes and yes! I am the troll!!!!!