It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
I paired these two picturebooks (the one by Gaiman is more like an illustrated novelette, really, rather than a picturebook) because not only are they both fantastical, they are also goosebumps-inducing in their eerie quality that is akin to a Twilight Zone episode. Sometimes you don’t need a vampire to get scared of bad things coming. Sometimes all it takes is a really good story.
Written by: John Marsden Illustrated by: Peter Gouldthorpe
Published by: Lothian Books, 1998 ISBN: 0850917395 (ISBN13: 9780850917390)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
John Marsden is one of my favourite Australian authors – right up there with Gary Crew. His picturebooks are always so thoughtful and push the boundaries in children’s literature in critical and creative/imaginative ways.
I really don’t know what it is about this book that just drew me in. It could be the lifelike illustrations that made my mouth drop in awe and wonder, or it could also be the campfire-story-vibe that is not quite real, but also quite plausible, like an urban legend of sorts.
In this story, a group of high country hikers found refuge in a hut (not found anywhere in their maps) when they noticed the dark clouds indicating the possibility of a snow storm. While the hut does seem to be in the middle of nowhere, a man was already inside, sitting by the fire, warming himself, grunting at the backpackers in welcome.
The group spent three full days trapped in the hut while the snow storm raged outside, the man nowhere to be found the day after they arrived. The group amused themselves by playing cards, reading a book, playing games with each other, as the snow spread its white blanket in the mountains outside.
When the group finally left the hut and found their way into other parts of the trail and camped by Clinker’s cold lake with other men who knew the mountains well, they told the story of the hut that provided them with refuge during the snowstorm… only to have the men claim that it was Norton’s hut which burnt down in 1956 with young Norton still inside. Apparently, the only thing standing there right now would be a pile of rocks.
We’ve heard of stories like these. In fact, as I was reading this, Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman also came to mind, with an inn in the middle of nowhere, welcoming the odd traveler who sees it as a kind of way-station between here and the neverwhere.
This is hands-down one of the creepiest picturebooks I’ve read. And one that you would have to experience for yourself.
Written by: Neil Gaiman Illustrated by: Colleen Doran Letters by: Todd Klein
Published by: Headline, 2016 ISBN: 1472244524 (ISBN13: 9781472244529) Literary Award: World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Short Story (1994).
Received a review copy of the book from Pansing. Book photos taken by me.
I hesitate to call this a children’s book, because it is more like a coming-of-age illustrated novella that has the same eerie tone as Gaiman’s The Truth Is A Cave in The Black Mountains.
Don’t let the bright, innocent-looking art fool you. There is darkness in this story and in the young boy’s heart who discovered a troll off a forgotten path in the middle of the woods. This low wooden bridge reminded me of the lovely bridge in Munich that led to the Blutenburg Castle which is the home of the library which has the largest collection of international children’s books in the world, my favourite place on earth, the International Youth Library:
There were no trolls here in Munich, though. At least none that I saw at the time. I am sorry, I digressed. Back to the Troll Bridge, this young man named Jack bargained for his life, similar to Walter Moers’ A Wild Ride Through the Night where the main character also got a lease on his life from Death himself. In Troll Bridge, Jack claims he is way too young to be eaten by the troll, that he has no significant experiences yet that would give more substance to his life as it stood at that point. So the troll let him go, because Jack promised to return when he is a little bit older and has seen more of the world.
Jack found himself returning to the Troll Bridge two more times throughout his life, once when he was a teenager, when he attempted to trade in his lady friend’s life for his:
revealing the depths of emptiness in his soul that will never seem to be filled with anything of value, perhaps at any point in his life, sadly for him. The story also vaguely reminded me of The Ocean at the End of the Lane with the returning, and the forgetting, and fighting a darkness within.
Jack returned one more time as an adult, when his wife and child left him, after he has experienced the taste of success and women and how it’s like to travel in an airplane, seeing a bit of the world. The troll was almost like a friend, a measure of what he has become. The ending is classic Gaiman: thought-provoking, strange, and utterly beautiful. You will have to get a copy of this for yourself, especially if you appreciate stories with a dab of the creepy in them.