Sunday, November 14, 2010

Toby Alone by Timothee de Fombelle

One of the most satisfying parts of my job as a Teacher Librarian is when a student recommends a book to me. Last week a Year 6 boy asked me if we had the sequel to Toby Alone and I knew at once he must have really enjoyed this book so I grabbed it with both hands and last night I sat down and began to read and read and read.

This book is a winner. It is a world in miniature but you soon forget this as Toby fights for survival and his father, a scientist, realizes the tree they all live in is in extreme danger. The people of this book are about one millimeter tall and their whole world is a large oak tree. As with any society there are greedy evil people who are out to exploit the riches around them and there are special heroes and friends who help each other in times of great need.

“Toby’s father subscribed to the crazy idea that the Tree was growing. It was an extremely controversial notion …. Does the Tree change? It is eternal? Where did it come from? Will the world end? And, most important, above all: is there life beyond the Tree?”

Toby Lolness, his dad Sim and mother Maya are a perfect little loving family unit until Sim makes an amazing discovery about tree sap. In the wrong hands the power of the sap could destroy the world as they know it – just like nuclear power or petrol or gun powder – so Sim decides to keep the details of his findings a secret. He is immediately banished with his family to the low branches of the tree.

“Toby didn’t tuck himself into bed on the first evening the Lolness family entered their new home. The three of them sat on his parents bed, in front of a crackling fire. They held hands.”

This is a book of complex story telling with constant flash backs and a host of characters but the writing is so wonderful it just carries you along.

I love so many things about this book and as with all good books I just want to put it into the hands of as many readers as I can. The language is fabulous (interestingly this book was originally written in French), the relationships are sincere and special, the messages are strong but not delivered in any heavy handed way. There is an ecological message but I also found a strong political message about corruption and power. Throughout the story there are funny moments such as weevils playing funnyball, touching moments when Toby draws flowers and these are recognized by Isha, Elisha’s mother and the comic relief of Sim and his glasses which are so difficult to remake. Finally of course there are plenty of references to inventive and delicious sounding foods including honey pancakes!

This book reminded me of so many others – The Amazing adventures of Chilly Billy and The Borrowers (size), Chronicles of Ancient Darkness (survival in a strange landscape), The Guardians of Ga'Hoole (politics and subversion) and Time stops for no mouse (fabulous character names).

Finally I loved this book so much that today I went shopping and bought the sequel in hardcover! After only 3 chapters I am once again hooked into the world of Toby and his friends. My top 20 all time favourite books constantly expands - but here is another one to add to that list. I also read all the print reviews I had here at home including Magpies, Horn Book and Reading Time and I must ask why no one seemed to shout from the highest treetops that this is a fabulous book. At least Horn Book gave it a "2" which is almost their highest rating and I see from the inside flap that it won heaps of awards in France. Once again I would say go out and grab this book you will not be disappointed. You might like to watch a little trailer.

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