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BOOKS: PICTURE BOOKS: Triangle Top The Tale of a Troubled Tribe

Triangle Top: The Tale of a Troubled Tribe


“A cautionary tale about resistance to change that both amuses and provokes our better natures”

Melissa Brown, Ph.D English literature

Triangle Top: The Tale of a Troubled TribeThe best picture books have something for everyone: illustrations to delight the eye, word sounds to tickle the ear, and storytelling that is both entertaining and meaningful. All of these qualities are charmingly—as well as disarmingly—expressed in Mark Johnson’s new book Triangle Top: The Tale of a Troubled Tribe. While children will enjoy the author’s alliterative story about a group of creatures that encounter a major challenge to their way of life, adults will find themselves pondering themes such as the rights of the individual vs. the common good, the importance of independent thought, and the dangers of clinging to routines that are no longer useful. These intimations provide a certain heft to the plot, yet it is the tribe’s failure to communicate its history that gives this story a gravitas that both children and adults can appreciate.

The story begins with a lively description of how the tribe of the Trylicans gathers the fruit of the trumple tree. Trumples are the tribe’s economy, their only source of food, and each type of creature within the group plays a very specific role in the procurement of trumples. Tweebles, who are walking eyes, scout for the trumples. When they find a trumple tree, they tie a Twarfer to it so that it will begin shouting, or “twarfing.” Twarfers are walking mouths, with no eyes or ears, and the illustration of one of them tied to a tree, mouth wide open in protest, reveals one of the story’s central ethical quandaries: Do the means justify the end? Even young children are likely to both giggle at the absurdity and comment on the unfair treatment of the Twarfers.

When the Trollephants, who are walking ears with arms, hear the twarfing, they find a Titan and push it toward the trumple tree. Titans are the only creatures in the tribe tall enough to reach the trumples. They “tap the trunk” of the trumple tree, causing fruit to fall for the whole tribe. With this system in place, the Trylicans’ survival is secure, and any reason to reflect on it is simply not part of the tribe’s tradition.

The Trylicans’ way of life is threatened, however, when they begin walking towards a cliff. Only one Tweeble named Travis, who has a flash of understanding, senses the danger and moves to do something to save the others. But the stubborn resistance of the tribe blocks his initial attempts to redirect them away from the cliff. Travis, as a suddenly enlightened Tweeble (in that he engages in independent thought and problem solving), still has much to learn about the intractable nature of his own society. In the end, he does find a way to save a remnant of the tribe from falling over the cliff and plunging into a lake created by the desperate Tweebles’ tears.

The book is perhaps best described as a cautionary tale about resistance to change that both amuses and provokes our better natures. On the last page, a small band of Trylicans march towards a tiny trumple tree in the distance. The author’s final paragraph is elegiac: “ . . . tragically, telling tales was not tradition, so all Trylican truths trickled into twilight never to be twarfed again.” The dark, somber colors on this spread, with just a hint of light across the sky above Triangle Top, may indicate a wisp of hope for the troubled tribe. But the stronger sense here is that the Trylicans, whose only thinking member, Travis, has been thrown into the lake of tears, will never learn to think outside the triangle. Trumple for thought.

Triangle Top: The Tale of a Troubled Tribe

ISBN 13: 978-1-59020-040-7
Trim Size: 11 x 8.5
Hardcover with Dust Jacket


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