The Three Silly Billies

written by Margie Palatini
illustrated by Barry Moser

Margie Palatini's The Three Silly Billies
illustrated by Barry Moser

Book review by Susan Syddall

Ages 4+

The Three Billy Goats Gruff Like You've Never Seen Them Before

We've just finished this book. The boys loved it and were enthralled by the illustrations.

The Three Silly Billies is based on the traditional tale, "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." It's been written in a contemporary style which adds to the humour.

In the story, the troll requires everyone going over his bridge to pay a toll. If they can't pay, they can't go over. As the Three Silly Billies haven't got enough money, they cannot cross.

The story also incorporates other fairy tale characters such as the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk).

As it turns out, none of the characters in the story have enough money to pay the toll individually. However, they soon work out a solution.

I found the book to be very culturally specific in the sense that some of the terms referred to may not be well known outside of the U.S. Webmaster's note: Susan hails from Australia!

For example, terms or phrases used include "jalopy", "hold your horsepower", "Detour du jour", "water wings", "car pool" and references to currency such as "four quarters, two dimes, twenty nickels, a hundred pennies ... and a buck."

However, my boys were eager to read the book so we looked at it as a learning opportunity to talk about and explain phrases or words we don't normally use. In this sense, the book is a great learning opportunity.

I've learnt that children can often understand terms we don't think they're familiar with. Children are able to glean meanings from illustrations and the surrounding text. They're also able to ask questions ... which they do!

The author has played with words throughout the book, twisting the meanings of some. For example, a 'car pool' is literally turned into a pool in the back of the car.

Book review The Three Silly Billies

As for the illustrations, they're cleverly designed. The reader is given glimpses of the characters from different perspective - often from up high looking down on them. This adds to the dynamics of the book.

I love the way the Three Bears have been depicted. Mother Bear looks like one Mamma you wouldn't want to mess with. Meanwhile, nappy-wearing Baby Bear is dressed in a t-shirt with the sign printed on it saying "Jus Rite".

A prior knowledge of other fairy tales helps the reader to appreciate some of the humour contained within this version of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. (Check out other versions.)

The illustrations are often full of funny details for the reader to discover. For example, when Little Red Riding Hood searches for stray coins, readers are shown what she keeps in her basket. Did you know she carries a hammer, make-up and a radio?

Trollgate Plaza

As for Jack, he comes along riding a skateboard with an axe embedded in it. The words "Giant Buster" are engraved on the blade.

That leaves the troll. Let's just say he's not your average garden variety troll. He's a grumpy, stumpy little troll with a mission - to guard the toll bridge - which he does with determination.

The ending is funny and is basically left to the reader's imagination. The troll is met by a humungous green giant ... and then we're presented with a sign "Under New Management". Makes you wonder if the toll is going to be increased!

The bright water-colour illustrations and witty text make The Three Silly Billies a captivating story to read for all ages.

Read more of Susan's reviews.

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