Troll 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!
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)…
…laid the table for our tea-party and salivated!
Before Troll snaffled up all the cupcakes…
…we managed to eat a few ourselves!
Whilst baking we listened to:
Other activities which would work well alongside reading Troll and the Oliver include:
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?