Polly Horvath's The Trolls
Children's book review by Sarah Denslow
Meet storytelling Aunt Sally
The eccentric aunt: pretty much everyone has one (at least pretty much all fictional characters), and the Anderson kids are no exception.
Now that Aunt Sally is really coming to stay with them, though, (and not just stay, but actually take care of the kids while their parents are in Paris) Melissa, Amanda, and Pee Wee are about to find out just what this aunt, who sends them Christmas cards with a picture of a moose every year, is really like.
Melissa is ten, the oldest, and “always knows everything”; Amanda is eight and “often knows everything”; Pee Wee is six and “knows nothing” (at least in the estimation of his sisters. Pee Wee does, however, provide a good deal of comic relief prior to the arrival of Aunt Sally by continually wondering if the children will be sent to a kennel when their babysitter has to cancel, due to contracting a case of the bubonic plague.
Mom and Dad aren’t nuts about leaving Aunt Sally with the care of their three offspring, but they can’t find anyone else, and there are those non-refundable tickets to Paris to consider. Mom leaves a very detailed list of what the children need to do, including suggested vegetables for each day of the week, and then they’re off.
Aunt Sally proves to be both an interesting and loquacious adult. She ensures that the children will eat their green beans by eating her own with such gusto and creativity (including pantomiming knitting with two) that the children can hardly stand not to eat them and entertains them with stories of growing up in Vancouver.
The stories are wonderfully entertaining, if just a bit incredible, and include a hilarious story of Great-uncle Louis trying to get Aunt Sally’s brother to eat his vegetables by chasing him down with a handful of the things. But if his childhood in Canada was so wonderful, why, Melissa and Amanda to know, doesn’t their dad ever talk about Vancouver himself?
Well, says Aunt Sally, it might have something to do with the Trolls. What trolls? Aunt Sally says she’ll tell Melissa and Amanda, but they mustn’t let Pee Wee hear because he might get nightmares.
This kicks off the series of stories that give the novel its main narrative. While The Trolls consists mainly of self-contained stories, many of them lead up to Aunt Sally’s final story that explains the rift between her and the children’s father, and may serve as a cautionary tale to Melissa and Amanda. The trolls, after all, may or may not be real, but they represent the real dangers of harboring resentment.
Each of Aunt Sally’s stories is wonderfully entertaining and captures the beautiful feel of growing up in a small community without TV or video games. Everyone is part of a story and everyone is important to the community whether they’re liked or not.
Horvath subtly creates a theme of the importance of family, and does it so carefully that you hardly see the ending coming until, well, the end. However, it is a thoroughly heartwarming and satisfying conclusion that should put a smile on your face. Readers may be a little disappointed not to have more of Aunt Sally, but, on the other hand, The Trolls should stand up to many, many re-readings.
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