This is a blog specifically created for the purposes of my Literature for Children and Young Adults class at Texas Woman's University. Coming soon will be reviews of titles ranging from children's fiction to poetry to young adult novels. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monday's Troll

Prelutsky, Jack (illus. by Peter Sís). 1996. Monday’s Troll. New York: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 0688096441

Monday’s Troll is an anthology of poetry about the individual plights of trolls, witches, wizards, knights, ogres, a few other fairytale creatures and even the Earth herself. Its title comes from one of the poems about seven trolls, each of them having their own unpleasant characteristics from Monday’s troll being “mean and rotten” to Sunday’s troll being “crabby, cross, and full of sour applesauce.” There’s a wizard who’s in a “pickle” because he has made himself disappear, a lonely old witch celebrating her birthday and a yeti who has a particular craving for dinosaurs because he “adores the crunch.”

The poetry in this book is, in a word, amazing. Its stories are captivating while its infectious rhythm and consistent rhyme is easy to read. Still, this book isn’t just child’s play. Though the content is simple, the vocabulary is challenging and unique—the language expertly crafted to educate as well as entertain. Though each of the poems are funny in its own somewhat grim, satirical way, my favorite is the following:

Five Giants
At our planet’s icy summit
Looms the Giant of the North,
Ancient glaciers tear asunder
When he stirs and blunders forth.
His incalculable equal
Is the Giant of the East,
Whose least consequential footfall
Chills the boldest savage beast.

Neither holds the least advantage
On the Giant of the South,
Who can house a pride of lions
In the cavern of his mouth.
All are matched in size and power
By the Giant of the West,
Who regards with condescension
The most lofty eagle’s nest.

But the being deep in slumber
At the world’s volcanic core,
Could between one thumb and finger
Crush and pulverize the four.
Every titan on the surface
Fears the Sleeper in the Flame,
They are doomed if she awakens,
So they dare not say her name.

This poem, at a child’s first glance, is about giants fighting over regions of the world, but to an adult, it could be interpreted as the political struggle on the surface as taking the main stage while there is a physical doom bubbling from underneath. The reference to the West being the biggest giant of them all “who regards with condescension, the most lofty eagle’s nest” could be an allusion to the United States—who, no matter how powerful or “lofty” he gets, will still be powerless in the face of the wrath of Mother Nature. We can start and fight wars and declare ourselves the greatest, but we’re still second fiddle (if that) to the powerful forces of nature. It is ageless poetry such as this piece that will engrave Prelutsky’s name into the hearts of all readers—child or adult.

What the illustrations lack in vivid color they make up for in detail. Though essentially nonsensical due to the fantastical nature of the characters, Sís’s lines—both straight and contoured—create an illusion of otherworldness while affording a suspension of disbelief, making us want to step into the page. Border art frames each illustrations with character and symbol. The illusion is further enhanced by a strange “folding” effect—the pages seem worn as one might find in an ancient codex because the illustrations themselves have been deliberately folded and tattered.

School Library Journal says, “this 17-poem collection overflows with energy, tongue-in-cheek wit, rich vocabulary, and rollicking rhyme and meter… Read the selections aloud to make this gruesome, ghastly group come alive.”

Publishers Weekly calls it, “a smorgasbord of verbal and visual delights…With his practiced pen, Prelutsky goes right for the funny bone, and his nimble rhymes shine...”

Horn Book hails it as “another treat for Prelutsky fans.”

The New York Times Book Review—“The inspired pair has scored again.”

ALA Booklist says Monday’s Troll “makes the make-believe seem almost real.”

This book could be used in a discussion of poetry itself—the rhythm, the rhyme schemes, etc. But it could also be used for its vocabulary. Words like “prestidigitation,” “wretched,” “witlessly,” “noxious,” etc. are all good triggers for colorful conversations about words. Also, the collection is full of alliteration such as “preposterous pickle” and “bluster and boast” leading to a discussion on the effect of sound and repetition.

Reviewed by Joelie Key-Tissot 10/04/06


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