The Gruffalo is a children's book by writer and playwright Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, that tells the story of a mouse's walk in the woods. The book has sold over 10.5 million copies, has won several prizes for children's literature, and has been developed into plays on both the West End and Broadway.
The Gruffalo was initially published in 1999 in the United Kingdom by Macmillan Children's Books (ISBN 0-333-71093-
The protagonist of The Gruffalo is a mouse. The story of the mouse's walk through the woods unfolds in two phases; in both, the mouse uses cunning to evade danger.
On his way the mouse encounters several dangerous animals (a fox, an owl, and a snake). Each of these animals, clearly intending to eat the mouse, invites him back to their home for a meal. The cunning mouse declines each offer. To dissuade further advances, he tells each animal that he has plans to dine with his friend, a gruffalo, a monster-like hybrid between a grizzly bear and a buffalo, whose favourite food happens to be the relevant animal, and describes the features of the gruffalo's monstrous anatomy. Frightened that the gruffalo might eat it, each animal flees. Knowing the gruffalo to be fictional, the mouse gloats thus:
Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn't he know?
there's no such thing as a gruffalo!
After being quit of the last animal, the mouse is shocked to encounter a real gruffalo – with all the frightening features the mouse thought that he was inventing. The gruffalo threatens to eat the mouse, but again the mouse is cunning: he tells the gruffalo that he, the mouse, is the scariest animal in the forest. Laughing, the gruffalo agrees to follow the mouse as he demonstrates how feared he is. The two walk through the forest, encountering in turn the animals that had earlier menaced the mouse. Each is terrified by the sight of the pair and runs off – and each time the gruffalo becomes more impressed with the mouse's apparent toughness. Exploiting this, the mouse threatens to eat the gruffalo, which flees.
The story is based on a traditional Chinese folk tale of a fox that borrows the terror of a tiger. Donaldson was unable to think of rhymes for "tiger" so invented one for "know" instead.