'Trolls': A journey across great borders


November 14, 1992|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Nobody does borders like Jan Brett.

More and more picture-book illustrators are wrapping their pages in borders, using them as intricate frames that usually complement (and sometimes provide commentary on) the plot. Consider them pretty parentheses.

But Ms. Brett has taken borders to another level. She uses them to tell a story within the story, pulling the reader along a plane parallel to the main action. It's as if she sat down to tell one tale, but another kept popping into her head, jumping up and down to get attention.

"When I'm working on a book, I have the idea and it's like a dream -- I can picture it," Ms. Brett said last week. "The hard thing is not putting too many details down. And that's where the borders have been great. I can put in all these asides and not have to edit them out." So every time a book by Ms. Brett is published, it's new two times. Readers have a delicious choice. If you tend to unscrew Oreos and eat the filling first, you'll probably read the central story and then go back to munch on the borders.

But if you're unorthodox enough to peel off the white "creme," crunch the cookies and then flip the filling onto your tongue, you're likely to read the borders first and savor the main story later.

Both kinds of folks will find that "Trouble with Trolls" hits the spot. Just published by G.P. Putnam's Sons ($14.95, ages 4-8), it's the story of Treva, a young Norwegian girl, and her dog, Tuffi.

One day, they set off to visit Treva's cousin, who lives on the other side of Mount Baldy. As they start up the mountain, the trouble with trolls begins.

The trolls live snug in an underground home pictured across the bottom of each page. While Treva and her dog hike through the snow, the trolls are drawing pictures of dogs, making a dog bed, storing dog food and otherwise readying their cave for a new pet.

Back in the main story, Treva and Tuffi meet a series of trolls. One by one, they snatch Tuffi. And each time, Treva outwits the troll with her best Brer Rabbit logic.

"Oh, you can have the dog. Just don't take my favorite pompon hat," she tells the second troll. Of course he grabs her hat, leaving Tuffi behind. And so it goes. Tuffi keeps bumbling into the trolls' traps, and Treva keeps rescuing him by sacrificing another article of clothing: mittens, sweater, boots.

Finally, at the top of the mountain, the trolls converge and it looks like Tuffi is captured. But Treva proves too smart for the trolls, and all's well that ends well. Because while the trolls were trying to make off with Tuffi, a pet of a different sort was making himself at home in the trolls' cave.

"The trolls aren't really mean or evil, they're just sort of wild," Ms. Brett said. "They're not really enemies. They just want a pet, but they go about it in the wrong way. In the end they do get a pet -- a more appropriate one."

Ms. Brett is best known for "The Wild Christmas Reindeer," which made the New York Times best seller list in 1990. She wrote and illustrated "Berlioz the Bear" last year, and illustrated gorgeous versions of "The Owl and the Pussycat," "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

Ms. Brett, 43, lives in Norwell, Mass., close to where she grew up. But she and her husband -- Joe Hearne, a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra -- travel extensively. She was inspired to write "Trouble with Trolls" while researching "The Wild Christmas Reindeer" in Scandinavia. She recalled walking through the woods in Norway -- it was summer, and the sun wouldn't set until 2 a.m.

"From your knees down, there were just layers and layers of reindeer moss and rocks covered with lichen and trees shaped like creatures," she said. "It's as if you get called farther along. There's this silence, and you keep looking out of the corner of your eyes, wondering, 'Did something just move?'

"I realized that of course, people there would believe in trolls, because there's this beckoning, this presence."


Several authors will be making appearances in the area this week. On Wednesday, Annapolis resident Bianca Lavies will meet fans at the Crofton branch of the Anne Arundel County Library (8 p.m.). She has written and photographed several breathtaking nature books, including "Wasps at Home," "The Atlantic Salmon" and "Monarch Butterflies."

On Thursday, Rebecca Jones, also of Annapolis, will appear at the Edgewater branch of the Anne Arundel County Library (7 p.m.). Her recent books include "Down at the Bottom of the Deep Dark Sea" and "Matthew and Tilly." Next Saturday, LLoyd Alexander and Tina Schart Hyman will be at the Children's Bookstore at 737 Deepdene Road in Roland Park. The award-winning writer and illustrator have collaborated on "The Fortune-Tellers," and they will autograph books that are purchased at the store.

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