Written by Max Bolliger, Illustrated by Peter Sis
Henry Holt and Company, 2005
Once there was a troll. He was not especially good-looking, nor was he especially ugly. He was just an ordinary troll. His name was Gus.
The Plot in a Nutshell: Gus has a beautiful singing voice, but longs for more.
At first, Gus sings just for the children in his neighborhood, but his voice is so beautiful that soon trolls come from all over to listen to him. They enjoy his songs so much that they give him simple gifts of water, nuts, roots & berries. Gus is happy with this life until he spies a raven with a gold ring and he believes the ring will make him happier, so he sings in exchange for it. The same thing happens when he meets a snake with a golden crown and a frog with a golden carriage. When he has these items, he loses interest in singing and ends up alone. When he tries to sing, he finds that he can’t. He returns all the golden items and goes home, where the trolls are waiting for him and he finds his songs again.
This story was originally published by author Max Bolliger in his native language of German in 1983, but was translated into English (by Nina Ignatowicz) in 2005 and enhanced with beautiful new oil pastel artwork from illustrator Peter Sis. Trolls are traditionally depicted as large and monstrous, but the trolls in this book are small and delicate, with dapper clothing and nifty little hats. Both the artwork and the writing style are evocative of classic fairy tales. I think this book relies too heavily on its lesson and doesn’t do enough to make the story around it entertaining. It’s a good message, but I was left wanting to know more about the characters.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the things we think will make us happy often distract us from what the things that truly do make us happy.