The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett, usually known for his humorous science fiction for adults, is part satire, part parable and all adventure story. My husband and I (mostly my husband) first read these books out loud at bedtime to our older son some eight years ago. Now my husband is reading them out loud to our youngest, who is seven. Long after my son has fallen asleep, my husband can be found reading ahead. In his words, "Pratchett, in his portrayal of the nomes, the little people who are the protagonists, displays the best and worst of human nature, the yearning for simple answers and the wisdom not to embrace them completely and slide into complacency." The main characters in these stories are a group of four inch high nomes, lead by young Masklin. In Truckers, Masklin's group of outside nomes joins up with hundreds of other nomes living in a department store (that is going to be demolished in 21 days) who have lived there for so many generations that they no longer remember - or even believe in - life beyond the walls of the store, Arnold Bros. They also do not believe in the existence of outside nomes and Masklin has to convince them of his reality before any movement can begin. Living this way for so long, the nomes have come to believe that everything contained in the store is the entirety of their world, a world which was created by the great Arnold Bros. They don't even realize that Arnold Bros is short for Arnold Brothers and nothing more than the name of the men who founded the store. Of course, in a way, these men did create the world - the world that the nomes know. Masklin brings with him a mysterious black box that has been handed down from generation to generation, told that it is of great importance despite the fact that is seems to be an inert lump. The story connected to this Black Box, as well as the origins of the nomes, has been long forgotten.
Truckers follows the nomes through their shock and disbelief that their world is about to be destroyed and that there is a world beyond their world. Their eventual exodus from the Store, along with the mysterious Black Box that begins to tell the story of their past and their future when near a source of eletricity, is a rude awakening, but met with ingenuity and creativity as well as determination on the part of Masklin to save his people whether they want to be saved or not. The Black Box also shuts off at times, telling the nomes that they have to prove they are intelligent beings and not clever animals. Diggers follows their struggle to survive outside on their own and come to terms with the rent in their belief system and learn how to drive a backhoe to further their escape. In Wings, a story that happens concurrently with the events of Diggers, Masklin leaves the nomes in the hands of Nicodemus, a messianic store nome, so that he can pursue Grandson Richard, the heir to Arnold Bros who has started his own satellite company. Grandson Richard is in Florida to see one of his company's satellites launched into space. If Masklin can get the black box onto the satellite, a message can be sent out into space and the nomes just might be able to return to their true home. Towards the end of the book there is a remarkable scene where you discover why these phenomenal books are called The Bromeliad Trilogy.
One of the trilogy's greatest strengths is it's depiction of the civilization the nomes have built up over the generations, including an intricate religion based on advertising signs hung about the Store. Reminiscent of Mary Norton's The Borrowers, these books have enough imagination and excitement to keep kids interested and the right amount of humor and philosophical leanings to keep adults and older kids reading.
The three books in one can only be purchased in hardcover at this time, however, it is slightly less expensive than buying the three books individually in paperback and features cover art by a hard to find favorite of mine, S Saelig Gallagher. A brief overview of her work can be found in this review of The Seeing Stick, a picture book by Jane Yolen with new illustrations by the marvelous Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, who has most recently designed the absolutely gorgeous covers for the new Penguin Classics Library.