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Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

goldilocks and the three dinosaursAs far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many twisted folktale retellings. Since this one is by Mo Willems, it had me at “Once upon a time.”

Like lots of fractured folktales, this is full of winks. I’m okay with winks up to a point, but I don’t like it when too many are aimed up over the heads of the kids. Happily, just about all the gags in this book are targeted straight across at a folk-tale–knowledgeable elementary school audience.

The premise is that three dinosaurs (Papa, Mama, and a smaller one who is visiting from Norway) set a trap for Goldilocks, hoping to lure her to their house with chocolate pudding and then eat her when she falls asleep in one of their beds. It seems that pudding-filled little girls are the bon bon of choice for this species. Of course, all ends well (assuming you were rooting for Goldilocks and not the dinosaurs) and Willems turns this retelling into a fable. The moral for Goldilocks is “If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” For the dinosaurs, it’s “Lock the back door!” And did I mention the endpapers? Genius! Willems finds the right combination of text and art silliness and makes it all look easy.

Maybe he makes it look too easy. We’ve seen him create this kind of spot-on humor delivered by cartoon-drawn creatures many times before. One thing I’ve noticed from being on award committees is that spending the year looking at SO MANY books can distort my perspective. It’s like eating too much turkey, stuffing, and pie on Thanksgiving. Sure it’s tasty, but after a few days those leftovers don’t seem so appealing. If you were to wave something completely different in front of my eyes — say, sushi — it would look like a brilliant idea by comparison. When I’m on a committee, there are invariably books that seem similar to others in the same year or remind me of past books by the same author. It’s as if the sameness of some books creates a kind of pattern that is too easy to dismiss. Any book that breaks that pattern — presenting new ideas or new ways of presenting material — will snap me out of my reverie. I think there is a general term for this, but I can’t find it. The Something Someone Syndrome.

Getting back to Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, I have a feeling this doesn’t have a shot at the Medal, but it MIGHT be on track for an honor book. If so, it would be Mo’s fourth.

And what the heck is the word/phrase/name to describe that pattern-blending-into-the-background phenomenon?


Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    If my almost-three-year-old were on the committee, this would win, hands down.

  2. I generally do not enjoy fractured folktales, but I think this one was great. Very fun. My favorite Mo Willems character is Trixie. The Elephant and Piggie books are great too.

  3. This had me at the endapers.
    I have been using this for a compare and contrast with a traditional Goldilocks with 2nd graders. Even though I read this with one class before Thanksgiving and then didn’t do the Venn diagram until 2 weeks later, it clearly made an impression! They remembered details I had forgotten, even after I had done a half-dozen read-alouds.
    One 7-year-old started softly giggling at Goldilocks and the Three Clams and then slowly lost all control as we continued through the rest of the rejected titles.

  4. Mo Willems is a genius at taking advantage of his endpapers in the Elephant and Piggie books, and I too loved the endpapers here. My absolute favorite illustration in the book is Goldilocks slumped in the third bowl of pudding, but I don’t know if it can hope to stand out this year against the work of Klassen and the Steads.

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