The Goldilocks Project: The Traditional Story

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

The story of Goldilocks and her visit to an unoccupied house of three bears has inspired a plethora of picture books, retellings, and rewritten accounts of the story. Robert Southey first recorded the folkloric story in an 1834 collection. (See Wikipedia for a rundown of the story’s history and reincarnations).

As I mentioned when I signed up for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, Raisin loves the Three Bears story. In his honor and for the OUAT challenge, I decided to search out some of the best three bears stories to share with you. I have read at least 25 picture books for this project; below are those that I found that are memorable either for the story or the illustrations, with a listing of some of the other, less memorable ones. This is post one of two.

I think it should be noted that these are my preferences and Raisin’s preferences. I also have not read each one to Raisin. I think he was starting to get burned out of Three Bears stories!

There are so very many versions out there. If you want to find your favorites, this list and the cover images on it may give you a good idea of which illustration style works for you.

Which of these have you read? Which stories of The Three Bears are your favorites? Why?

Tomorrow, I’ll have a few more all time favorite retellings. Those are more distant for the traditional story, but I’m finding I like those a lot. It’s so refreshing after all of these.

The Traditional Story

It is amazing to me how the basic story line can be so different when put into context with a different artistic style. Here are some of the basic stories that I enjoyed.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall

(Dial, 1988)

James Marshall’s version is the one, of all of these, that we own. Goldilocks is a rotten and dense girl with a strong personality. It is just so funny. We’ve also seen the Scholastic animation of the story, which use the same illustrations, and James Marshall is simply classic in his capture of the rotten Goldilocks, both in the humorous illustrations and in the humorous text. This one stands out on every read. (Caldecott Honor Winner in 1989)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jan Brett

(Puffin, 1996)

Jan Brett’s strength is in her detailed illustrations. She is the master of detail. I love the depiction of Goldilocks; she looks like a girl from a photograph given the painstaking detail. I also particularly like the details on the three different bowls of porridge. Her story follows the original for the most part. Yet, despite the familiar story, Ms Brett somehow gave the story its own voice.  Was it the illustrations of the realistic but adorable clothed bears that gave them a personality or is there something in Brett’s retelling about voice? I don’t know, but I liked it.

The Three Bears by Byron Barton

(Harper 1991)

Byron Barton’s illustrated story is as basic as it can be, yet I have always enjoyed Mr Barton’s simple stories and illustrations for a young child. He seems to show that less is more, that patterns and simplicity seem to capture the reader in ways that detailed illustrations do not. There is nothing distracting in this book, but there are details: flowers in the words, steam coming from the bowls of porridge, Goldilocks’ flowers left along the way. Mr Barton’s rendition is one of Raisin’s favorite versions of the story, probably because of Mr Barton’s unique method of illustrating a familiar story.

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” in Yummy by Lucy Cousins

(Candlewick, 2009)

Lucy Cousins also has a distinct illustration style. Although the story was standard and nothing stood out to me or to Raisin, the bright illustrations may be a favorite. It comes in a collection with seven other fairy tales retold and illustrated by Ms Cousins, but Raisin was not interested in those. (He is not a fan of the stories involving the Big Bad Wolf, and while he likes the Maisy stories they are not a “go to” series as Byron Barton’s vehicle books are.)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Gennady Spirin

(Marshall Cavendish, 2009)

Gennady Spirin’s story reminds me a lot of Jan Brett’s, in that his story seems to have a distinct voice, thanks to its distinct realistic illustrations. To be honest, I am not a fan of the dark illustrations in this one. The bears and the house seem a bit too much. The house is a gigantic three-and-a-half story mansion, and Goldilocks doesn’t grow on me. The retelling is unoriginal. Others may be moved by Mr Spirin’s detailed illustrations as I was moved by Ms Brett’s. It’s all a matter of preference in illustration style. Although it’s not a favorite for me, I mention it because the illustrations are so strong.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Emma Chichester Clark

(Candlewick Press 2010)

As with James Marshall’s version, Ms Clarks’ version has a distinct voice in the telling. Her Goldilocks is not as obnoxious as James Marshall’s, but she still deserves to be laughed at in the end (and to hide under her bed for a week). I liked the different representation of Goldilocks: she has straight hair instead of the traditional curls so many books portrayed her as having.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Roberto Piumini, illustrated by Valentina Salmaso (Storybook Classics)

Raisin said of Piumini’s version, “It’s not a good story. Goldilocks did not say sorry.” But she doesn’t say “sorry” in many of the books, so I’m not sure why this one stood out as not a favorite for him. It’s true that there is not much unique in the story, beyond it being three bachelor bears rather than a family of bears (such was Southey’s original story, apparently). The illustrations are adorable, and I only wish there was some unique voice in the story that helped it to stand out from the others. This diserves a mention for the illustrations alone.

A Few Retellings

Sometimes it’s really nice to stray from the traditional just a little bit. These authors were impressive in how they added a little new life into a worn out story, through both illustration and story tweaks.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner

(Dial Books for Young Readers, 2007)

The Buehner’s rendition of the story gives Goldilocks a jump rope and a tendency to rhyme her sentences. The illustrations are bright and interesting, and I found the change from the “normal” to be delightful and fun, even after reading dozens of other renditions. Highly recommended for fans of the story.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child, Photography by Polly Borland and Models by Emily Jenkins

(Disney Hyperion, 2008)

Although the story follows the traditional story quite closely, Lauren Child’s story has a distinct voice: Goldilocks is given strict instructions, for example, to take care of her new red shoes. Beyond the distinct voice, though, the illustrations also make this stand out, for each page is a doll model posed in a doll sized set especially for this purpose. Raisin quite likes this book (he has a “baby doll” that he occasionally carries around for days at a time) and I love the little details on the doll and the set. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went in to creating the masterpiece that is this clever picture book, and I look forward to finding the other Lauren Child fairy tales illustrated in like manner.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Robert Southey, Graphic novel

(Classics Illustrated Junior)

A sparrow and a squirrel provide commentary on Goldilock’s adventure in the Classics Illustrated graphic novel version of the story. In the end, Goldilocks sends an apology note to the bears, and invites them for breakfast! I was not a fan of the illustrations in the book (they were really ugly), but Raisin enjoyed the book, probably because of the end. He lingers on the last page, where Goldilocks and her mom and the bears are all gathered for breakfast, and says, “Mommy, I like this.”

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Tale Moderne by Steven Guarnaccia

(Abrams, 2010)

Although the story follows the traditional story for the most part, Mr Guarnaccia’s retelling relies on the illustrations, which feature modernist art and style, to give it a different feel. There are a few things in the story’s text itself that also make it stand out. (“Once upon a time, a family of bears lived in a split-level house deep in the forest.”) Although I’m personally not a fan of the modern style of decoration in my own home at least, it was fun to see the familiar story retold with those illustrations. The front and end papers list some of the moderne artists that inspired the illustrations: for a unit on the style of art, it is genius! I’m curious to see the other books in the developing series.

Also Read

These didn’t stand out to me, but I did read them. I feel the need to mention them here. This is not the exhaustive list. I have a few more favorites to mention tomorrow.

  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Valeri Gorbachev (North-South Books 2001). Traditional story. Bears were kind of ugly with strange fur, so I didn’t really like it. I know I must have missed something: an Amazon review mentioned the “whimsy” of the Gorbachev retelling.
  • The Three Bears by Paul Galdone (Clarion Books, 1972). Traditional story. Galdone has published a series of fairy tales. This one of the Goldilocks story has a truly scary-ugly looking Goldilocks, though. Not my favorite rendition, and not Galdone at his best.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Amanda Askew, illustrated by Bruno Merz (QEB Publishing, 2010). Traditional story. I really like the soft illustrations, but nothing made it stand out compared to the myriad of other choices.
  • The Three Bears by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by Irma Wild (Norwood House Press, 2006). A standard story, but told in an awkward Beginning-to-Read/First Reader format (45 words in the book). For a read-aloud, it was awkward and ugly. For a beginning reader? It may work, but the illustrations are nothing special. It serves its purpose.
  • The Three Bears by Gina Ingoglia, illustrated by John Nez (Golden Books, 1990). Another traditional story told in awkward format due to being an “easy to read” first reader book. Pictures are more cartoonish than the Hillert book (see above), but it still is rather unattractive. Again, it may serve is purpose for a beginning reader.
  • The Three Bears by Robert Southey, illustrated by Norman Messenger (DK Publishing, 1998). Traditional story. The illustrations are very nice; they are soft and detailed. But there are not enough; they sink into the large print text. Again, although nice enough, the book doesn’t stand out among all the others.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears: A Split-Page Surprise Book by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Laura Rader (Tambourine Books, 1995). A traditional story. The pages are split in half, so one can turn first the top half and then the bottom half. Fun for little fingers, but too much text compared to each illustration, so not as fun as it cold be.
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic, 2003). I love Aylesworth and McClinktock’s collaboration on The Gingerbread Man, but I didn’t like this one at all. The story had too much text on each page, and the illustrations were unattractive. Aylesworth added a distinct flavor to the story, but it felt forced and didactic. Unfortunately, this was not a favorite.


Reviewed on May 6, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I love look at how a fairy tale has changed over time! My thesis in college involved me having to study the many variations of Beauty and the Beast and it was fascinating. It sounds like it was a lovely project to take on 🙂

    • The Very Hungry Bookworm » Beauty and the Beast would be a fascinating one to follow. I think that one is my favorite. I loved the Disney movie as a kid. And I love the message of seeing beyond appearances.

  • […] The Goldilocks Project: The Traditional Story Tomorrow, I'll have a few more all time favorite retellings. Those are more distant for the traditional story, but I'm finding I like those a lot. It's so refreshing after all of these. Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Roberto Piumini, illustrated by Valentina Salmaso (Storybook Classics). Raisin said of Piumini's version, “It's not a good story. Goldilocks did not say sorry.” But she doesn't say “sorry” in many of the books, so I'm not sure why this one stood out as . […]

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}