Friday, November 27, 2009

The Christmas Troll

Every once in a while a picture book comes along that makes you and your child think. The Christmas Troll by Eugene H. Peterson is that kind of book. Peterson is best known as the author of the popular Bible paraphrase, The Message, and in his first children's book, he shows both humor and insight.

Andrew is really angry. He asked to open a gift - just a single gift - on Christmas Eve and his mother refused him. Even when he told her his friend Jonathan was opening the last of his presents by now, she refused him. "Gifts are for giving and receiving," his father says, "not for grabbing and getting. Waiting until morning will be good for you." So Andrew decides to run away and take his little sister with them. They enter the woods near their house, a small lantern lighting their way. Although they've taken many family tromps through these woods, they look different - and kind of scary - in the dark. Andrew remembers what Jonathan told him about the trolls who live there; is his friend right?

When the the siblings stop and sit on a soft, mossy log, suddenly a growly voice says "Who's sitting on my belly?" Jonathan leaps off the "log" and into the ferns, too terrified to run, but his little sister soon calls out, "It's okay. The troll is ugly - but nice." More than nice, actually. Wonderful. And ridiculous, with spiky, carrot-colored hair. The children are soon bouncing on his belly, while they all laugh. Suddenly Andrew realizes the troll is a gift.
"Andrew hadn't expected a gift, he hadn't deserved it, yet he'd gotten it all the same - and it felt great!..And now he wanted to go home as fast as he could, and he wanted to show the troll to Jonathon. He wanted to show everybody a gift, a real gift, a gift you can't wrap with paper and ribbons and put under a tree. He wanted to show Jonathan that he was all wrong about trolls, and all wrong about gifts."
When the children try to get the troll to come home with them, he won't budge. Andrew says:
"Oh, please, Mr. Troll, please...My father says Christmas is our time to remember that God gives us gifts. That's what he does, give gifts - gifts everywhere, gifts here, gifts there, gifts from above, gifts from below, gifts seen, gifts unseen, and lots and lots and lots of gifts that don't look like gifts but tun out to be the best gift of all. But Jonathan thinks that if it's not wrapped up in a package and tied with a ribbon, it's not a gift. Jonathan needs to know about troll gifts."
The troll doesn't follow the children, but when they go home, their father says the best gifts can't be wrapped and put under the tree, "so it's wise to live life expectantly, alert to the surprises of God."

That night, Andrew's sister ponders the afternoon. "Drew," she whispers in bed, "do you think Jesus was ugly but nice?" But Andrew is fast asleep, dreaming about Jesus in a manager, very surprised - but pleased - to find him with a head of spiky, carrot-colored hair.

What I Like: This story makes both my preschooler and me laugh. The troll is wonderful and ridiculous - and there are so many layers to this story, we've had many long conversations about it. Do some people put God in a box? Is God a lot more unexpected and wonderful than we think? Are God's greatest gifts the surprising ones? Can God, like the troll, seem weird? Ugly and beautiful? Wonderful and terrible?

The illustrations by Will Terry are imaginative and captivating. His images of a forest that could be something more draw the reader in, and his troll is both delightful, funny, and awful.

My four year old asks for this book again and again. Aside from the biblical story of Jesus' birth, The Christmas Troll is our new favorite Christmas story.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: 4 - 8.

Publishing Info: Nav Press, 2004; ISBN: 978-1576836811; hardback, $11.99

Buy Now at for $10.25

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