Chances are you’ve never found Trelfdom, because wherever you look, it’s always somewhere else. Across the river, maybe, or in a different wood, or at the bottom of the hill. Until you cross the river, explore that other wood, or climb down the hill, and discover that Trelfdom isn’t there, either.
If you haven’t found Trelfdom, you’ve never visited a certain little higgledy-piggledy house that sits halfway up an enormous tree. This is where Roog and his sister, Teaflet, live. Or, rather, where Teaflet and her brother, Roog, live. I say it both ways around, to keep from offending anyone.
Despite being small, Teaflet and Roog are the same as any other sister and brother, happy together until something goes wrong. What goes wrong for them, though, isn’t what usually goes wrong for most of us.
You see, Roog loves working in the kitchen: cooking, baking, anything to do with food. And Teaflet loves helping any creature who comes to her with a problem. Like the bluebird who was too shy to sing, and the baby hedgehog who didn’t know how to uncurl. Teaflet’s creatures never mess up Roog’s food projects on purpose, but sometimes they just can’t help it. The bluebird didn’t understand that the blueberries on the counter were meant to be baked into muffins. It’s not the kind of thing birds are taught by their parents. And I don’t think it was the hedgehog’s fault that Roog poured chocolate-cake batter on him. For a hedgehog, a cake pan is a perfectly natural place for a nap. But these mishaps are rare, and life in the higgledy-piggledy house is mostly calm.
While everything that comes out of Roog’s kitchen is delicious, he has a specialty--strawberry jam. Scrumptious, mouthwatering strawberry jam, sweeter and more berry-ish than any jam you’ve ever tasted. It’s so yummy that once a year he and Teaflet have a big Strawberry Jam Party for their friends. You can eat the jam with cake, pie, pancakes, waffles, ice cream, toast, croissants, pudding, tapioca--and even oatmeal, if anyone wants it, but no one ever does.
The party is always on the fifth Saturday after the first full moon after the strawberries ripen on the vines. Some say this is the easiest time for outsiders to find Trelfdom. I say they’re wrong, and I’m the one to know. But it certainly is the best time to visit. If you’re lucky enough to manage that, be sure to have a slice (or three--they’re small, remember) of Roog’s double-chocolate cake with strawberry jam. It’s my favorite.
Roog was working in the kitchen, and had been since early morning. This year’s Strawberry Jam Party was happening the very next day, and he still had mountains of food left to prepare. Up next was his lemon poppy-seed cake. He’d arranged the ingredients on the table--twenty-three poppy seeds, a lemon, flour, sugar, butter--but he couldn’t begin yet. Teaflet was in his way.
And not just Teaflet, but also a wasp nest almost as big as a trelf. The nest contained no wasps, thank goodness, but it wasn’t quite empty. A baby raccoon playing hide-and-seek had gotten her leg stuck in it. She was very young, and scared she’d stay stuck for the rest of her life.
“I’ll get your leg out, I promise, and it won’t hurt a bit,” Teaflet told the raccoon. “But first take a sip of this calming tea. It’ll help with your nerves.”
The raccoon was shaking too hard to drink tea, and spilled most of it onto the floor. Roog wiped it up and drank the rest himself. He needed calming as much as the raccoon, maybe more. Preparing for the Strawberry Jam Party always makes him tense, but this year he was in an absolute frenzy. It was going to be the tenth of these parties, and he wanted it to be the best ever. Maybe even ten times the best ever. Maybe even ten times the best ever of any party ever, whether or not strawberry jam was involved.
“Teaflet, how much longer will you be?” he asked. “It’s impossible to work with you and that wasp nest in the middle of the kitchen.”
“Just until the raccoon is relaxed enough for nest removal. You can’t hurry these things.”
DONG DONG DONG! That was the sound of the large bell hanging at the bottom of Teaflet and Roog’s tree. It meant that a visitor was about to climb the long flight of steps up to their house.
“Who could that be?” wondered Roog.
“Maybe someone wanting an early taste of strawberry jam.”
“Well, they can’t have any. I’ll tell them to go away.” Roog never gave out jam before the party. “While I’m gone, be careful with the ingredients on the table, the ones for my lemon poppy-seed cake. I’ve got only twenty-three seeds, and I need every one of them.”
“I’m always careful,” said Teaflet. “You know that.”
When Roog left, she made more calming tea. This time the raccoon drank it, and stopped shaking so hard.
“Ready for me to get you free?” asked Teaflet. “You hold tight to the sink, and I’ll pull the nest off your foot. One, two, three, PULL!”
Nothing budged, neither the foot nor the nest. Teaflet was ready to try again when--DING DING DING! That was the sound of another large bell, this one hanging beside the front door. It meant that the visitor had climbed to the top of the steps and reached the house. A moment later, Roog came running back into the kitchen, clutching a letter.
“It wasn’t someone asking for jam, Teaflet. It’s an official letter from the new inspector of neatness!”
Trelfdom had many inspectors. There was an inspector in charge of tempers (trelfs were supposed to keep them), another in charge of hair (trelfs were supposed to have lots), another in charge of time (trelfs were supposed to make the most of it), and so on. Of all the inspectors, the most worrisome was the inspector in charge of neatness. The list of neatness rules--like how to make your bed, how to fold your clean clothes, how to roll up the tube of toothpaste--was a mile long and always getting longer. The previous inspector, Inspector Ash, had been reasonable, and had passed Teaflet and Roog despite the feathers on the living room floor. (The cardinal getting whistling lessons from Teaflet had dropped them there.) But this new one, Inspector Maple, had a reputation for being extra strict.
“Probably just another dumb rule for the list,” said Teaflet. “Let’s try again, baby raccoon. One, two, three, FOUR, pull! Nope, still stuck.”
Roog tore open the envelope and groaned. “It’s much worse than that! She’s coming to inspect us early tomorrow morning, on the very day of our Strawberry Jam Party! I don’t have time to clean the house now, not on top of all the food preparation!”
“So we’ll fail, and pay the fine.” With the old inspector, the fine had been seven trelf dollars. Teaflet and Roog had that much saved, and a little more.
Roog was back to reading the letter, and he groaned louder. “The rule has changed. We don’t just have to pay a fine if we fail. We also have to spend the day cleaning Inspector Maple’s house!”
“It’s a racket.”
“It’s a disaster! If we’re cleaning her house, we can’t be having the Strawberry Jam Party. All our friends will be disappointed, and I’ll never be happy again.”
Discouraged, Roog sat down on the floor with a thump.
Roog’s thump was a big one, like this--THUMP! It startled the raccoon so much she yanked her leg right out of the wasp nest, then leapt up to the top of the refrigerator. Teaflet was thrown off balance and landed on the floor, with the nest on top of her. This wasn’t so bad--she wasn’t hurt. But she’d jogged the table when she fell, and the ingredients for Roog’s lemon poppy-seed cake were flying every which way.
“My poppy seeds!” Roog was already on the floor, hunting for this most important ingredient. He inspected every crack and cranny, some so deep they could easily swallow a poppy seed.
“What happened?” The nest blocked Teaflet’s view.
“Some of my poppy seeds are lost. I can find only sixteen.”
“I’m sorry, Roog,” she said.
“I can get more from Crarkie,” he said. “Not that it matters anymore. After this inspection, there won’t be a Strawberry Jam Party.”
“Roog, we’ve got to try. You keep cooking, and I’ll clean the house. I’ll clean like I’ve never cleaned before. Inspector Maple won’t find anything wrong, and she’ll have to pass us.”
Roog rolled the nest off her. “Do you really think so?”
“Yes! I’ll do the house top to bottom, scouring every inch.”
“Thank you, Teaflet.” Roog dropped his voice to a whisper to keep the raccoon from hearing. “You know what a mess your creatures make. If we’re going to pass, the raccoon has to go away until the inspection is over. And you have to convince the bluebird to go, too.”
“But the bluebird is still too shy to sing.”
“I heard her singing opera,” said Roog. “She’s not shy--she just likes our laundry basket. And is the hedgehog still in your sock drawer?”
“Maybe.” Teaflet knew he was.
“Anyone else?” Roog was right to ask. None of Teaflet’s creatures ever wanted to leave.
“Perhaps.” The young pheasant who needed help with his strutting was in the spare bedroom, practicing in front of the long mirror.
“Please, Teaflet! For the Strawberry Jam Party! I’ll get rid of the wasp nest, if you could just get the creatures to leave.”
“Okay, okay.” It wasn’t the creatures’ fault that their fur and feathers fell off. But Roog was right. They made it hard to keep a house clean.
She got the raccoon off the refrigerator and took her along to see the bluebird, hedgehog, and pheasant. They were terribly sad to hear they’d have to leave, the pheasant most of all. Teaflet had never before seen a pheasant weep, and it was too much for her.
“Don’t cry, please don’t. I’ll figure something out. Everyone, come sit on my lap--it helps me think.”
The creatures did their best to get into her lap, except there wasn’t enough room, and the bluebird ended up on Teaflet’s head.
“I have a plan,” she said finally. “Follow me, and don’t make a sound. Nothing. Not a peep.”
The pheasant, the hedgehog, the raccoon, and the bluebird followed Teaflet up a flight of steps, and then another and another, climbing higher and higher, until they reached the storage room at the top of the house. It had a large wardrobe where Teaflet and Roog kept their summer clothes in the winter, and their winter clothes in the summer. Plus a smaller cupboard, just for hats.
The storage room also held the boxes full of decorations for the Strawberry Jam Party. Balloons and bunting, twinkly lights and tablecloths, plates and mugs painted with strawberries, a large banner to string between two trees, and masses of confetti. The confetti was special this year, and Roog meant to toss it everywhere. The party would be as colorful as the food would be delicious.
“You can stay in here,” Teaflet told the creatures. “Just don’t touch anything, and please don’t make any noise. If Roog can’t hear you, he won’t know you’re here, and what he doesn’t know won’t worry him. Of course, you’ll have to leave early tomorrow morning, before Inspector Maple arrives. You can come back later, after she’s gone.”
Teaflet opened the room’s one window, to let in fresh air. Just outside were steps the hedgehog and raccoon could climb down in the morning. The pheasant and bluebird could fly.
“Have I thought of everything? Wait, I know--if you get thirsty, a bucket that catches rainwater is hanging on the branch out there, next to the steps,” she said. “Please remember I’ll have to clean in here after you leave tomorrow, so try not to make too much work for me.”
One by one, the creatures came to her for hugs.
“Yes, I love you, and you too,” she said. “Also you, and of course I love you, too. Now I have to go clean the house. Be kind to each other, and remember to be quiet. Quiet, quiet, quiet!”
Meanwhile, Roog was on his way to the best poppy garden in Trelfdom, in search of seven new poppy seeds. He wore a hat, hoping no animals would recognize him and ask to be taken home to see Teaflet. The animals recognized him anyway, but just one had a problem--a grasshopper who could jump only sideways. But she was enjoying the change and could wait until after the inspection to see Teaflet.
Crarkie was the trelf in charge of the poppy garden. She was happy to give Roog the poppy seeds, but first she wanted to talk about tomorrow’s party.
“The tenth annual Strawberry Jam Party! Everyone is so excited,” she said. “We’re all skipping dinner tonight to leave room for the feast.”
Roog didn’t like the idea of his friends going hungry because he and Teaflet were cleaning Inspector Maple’s house instead of giving a party. But he couldn’t tell Crarkie about that possibility--panic would spread throughout Trelfdom.
“Maybe you should have a little bit of dinner,” he said. “You know, to help you sleep.”
“Goofy Roog, always worried about nothing! Let’s go to the garden for the poppy seeds.”
There were plenty of seeds in the garden. There was also a mouse huddled on top of one of the poppies. A mouse with a problem--his tail was snarled up with long grass and short sticks, the whole mess knotted around his back legs.
“I tried untangling him,” said Crarkie. “But I think he needs Teaflet.”
Not while she was cleaning the house for an inspection! But Roog’s heart was softer than he let on. He just couldn’t leave the sad little guy stuck on top of a poppy.
“You’re too large for me to carry all that way in my arms,” he told the mouse, “but if you can ride on my back, I’ll take you to my sister.”
The mouse didn’t want to ride on anyone’s back, but he’d heard about Teaflet and how kind she was. He slid off the poppy and onto Roog’s back, and Roog fell down. He wasn’t hurt, but his overalls got dirty.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ve got other overalls. Let’s try again.”
This time Crarkie helped the mouse get settled, and Roog started the slow journey back home. Four more times he fell, once into a rotting mushroom. Oh, the smell! The mouse didn’t get hurt or even dirty, but by the time they got home, Roog was worn out and very dirty indeed.
Excerpted from Teaflet and Roog Make a Mess by Jeanne Birdsall; illustrated by Jane Dyer Copyright © 2021 by Jeanne Birdsall. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.