Exciting Grammar, trolls and cake

posted in: Adam Stower | 9

troll_and_oliverTroll and the Oliver by Adam Stower is one of the funniest picture books I’ve read this year. It channels the wicked delight of Rosie’s Walk, with comforting echoes of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and throws in gender myth-busting normality and laugh-out-loud humour with the perfect shot of adrenalin-fuelled surprise. It explores how friendship can be forged between foes, with just a little bit of… baking.

In the opening pages we learn of a troll who’s aim in life is to catch a young boy, Oliver, and eat him. The troll lies in wait, he plans ambushes, he sneaks up on his prey, but time after time Oliver manages to walk away unscathed. Lulled into a sense of security, Oliver celebrates by baking a cake. But we all know that a scene where nothing could seem happier normally presages a terrible turn of events, and this book doesn’t shy away from that narrative expectation.

But is Oliver really doomed to be a troll’s teatime snack? Or could it be that this book has another twist (or two) up its sleeve? I urge you to find out for yourself!

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Troll and the Oliver‘s pacing and singsong chants make it enormous fun to read aloud. Its take on the classic David (the little boy Oliver) vs. Goliath (the big, terrible troll) story will delight small (and not so small) children everywhere who will come to believe they too can outwit any baddies who come their way. With a dash of gross humour, a male protagonist and a beast, this book might be marketed (naively) for boys; how utterly wonderful that this particular boy loves to be in the kitchen, and this particular mean monster turns out to have a rather soft spot.

The text and themes of this book are terrific. The illustrations are comic and characterful (so much so, I almost want bushy eyebrows and stray strands of head hair myself). The physical production is gorgeous; the die cut cover makes it extra tactile as well as immediately brining the story to life. And yet…

In English, definite articles and individual personal names don’t usually go together, so upon sighting Troll and the Oliver for the first time, you might do a double take. The title might make you feel a little linguistically uneasy; indeed, the publishers of this book have even inadvertently altered the title on their website, perhaps subconsciously trying to ‘naturalize’ the phrase.

But actually Stower’s playful title is a work of witty genius. The unusual use (and non-use) of the definite article humanises the troll and makes Oliver truly unique. It catches you off guard and makes you sit up and take notice even before you’ve turned a single page. You get the best of everything with this book, down to the very last grammatical detail.

The endpapers of Troll and the Oliver contain a recipe for Troll Cupcakes so we were easily persuaded to put on a tea-party after first (rather willingly) submitting to demands of “Again, again, again!”.

We made chef hats to mirror those worn by Troll and the Oliver. The video below shows a really simple method for making chef hats out of paper. Whilst it recommends “sandwich” paper (aka baking pape)r, presumably because such paper can put up with scrunching better than normal paper, the technique worked fine for us using wallpaper lining paper.

With our our toques ready, we baked and decorated (using dyed desiccated coconut)…

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…laid the table for our tea-party and salivated!

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Before Troll snaffled up all the cupcakes…

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…we managed to eat a few ourselves!

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Whilst baking we listened to:

  • Raised By Trolls by Key Wilde and Mr Clarke (you can listen for free on Myspace, here)
  • Where is the Cake by Laurie Berkner
  • Cake’s version of the Muppet’s Mahna Mahna
  • and we had to listen to some of The The’s music! Not all of it is kid friendly, but The Beat(en) Generation is a classic.

  • Other activities which would work well alongside reading Troll and the Oliver include:

  • Creating art with cut outs. Part of the beauty of Troll and the Oliver is its fabulous cover with a cut out (in fact, a whole series of holes) making Troll’s lying-in-wait appear 3D. Giving your kids paper with wholes cut out can transform how they react to it. For inspiration take a look this post from The Artful Parent.
  • Going for a walk in the woods, perhaps even with a picnic packed with cake?
  • Wiring up your own kitchen timer using this tutorial from Instructables.
  • With respect to the unusual title, reading this post by former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen, about “doing” and language “not only as something functional, something expressive, and something reflective, but also as something endlessly provisional and endlessly malleable“.

  • Another troll book which we are particularly partial to is Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson. Which are your favourite trolls in children’s literature?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Troll and the Oliver by Templar.

    9 Responses

    1. I love Troll Swap!

    2. I can’t wait to read this book, it sounds great and your Troll Cupcakes look delicious. The chef hat tutorial is hilarious – such a wonderful little helper 🙂
      Melissa @ Honey Bee Books recently posted..Five Picture Books To Give As Gifts This Christmas

    3. My daughter is currently obsessed with trolls and baking so this story sounds perfect for her. Your troll cakes look great 🙂
      Catherine recently posted..An Advent Calendar for a Little Bookworm

    4. Great post – can’t wait for this one!

    5. Lovely post and quite a celebration! Looking forward to this book and its cleverness.

    6. Thanks for the great review! We love the book Helga’s Dowry: A Troll Love Story by Tomi dePaola.

    7. Hooray for funny books! What a great post though I’m now craving cupcakes. I’m looking forward to all that grammatical detail.
      Mrs Brown’s Books recently posted..Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Lui & Illustrated by Bei Lynn

    8. Melissa – yes, the chef hat tutorial is a goody isn’t it!

      Kimberley – thanks for the tip, I shall investigate.

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