Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Toby Alone

by Timothee de Fombelle
translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Thumbs up.

This was a really fun and interesting children's book. The plot is engaging and the book features some interesting philosophical points. This book could be useful for engaging an older child in a discussion or analysis of current events or history. But the story does not get bogged down with the philosophizing. I would say that a independent reader of 3rd or 4th grade could read it. But for reading aloud, my pre-schoolers through high schoolers all were engaged. The illustrations by Francois Place are cute pen drawings somewhat reminiscent of those by Quentin Blake in the Roald Dahl books, with similar silliness and exaggeration.

The characters are colorfully developed and tale moved along at a quick pace. The author keeps a reader curious by telling just a bit about a person or occurrence and then leaving the reader to wonder while he backs up and gives a bit of history about that person or occurrence. This plot devise can be difficult for books at this reading level, but Mr. Fombelle does it well.

The main story revolves around Toby and his survival. He is being chased by bad guys and he is seeking his parents. The rest of the details make up the plot. Toby and those of his society are tiny (Toby is less than 1/2 mm tall) and their world is The Tree.

The book is definitely anti-fascist or anti-totalitarian. It does this well. The tyrant in the story, among other things uses fear to stir up the populace against Toby and his family and keeps every one ignorant by criminalizing publishing and information dissemination.

The plot is also somewhat green and anti-industrialist, but it is not preachy. I was apprehensive for a stretch, that the book would end up being anti capitalist or big-business or free-market. Mr. Fromelle's fascist was definitely abusive to The Tree and he also made poor use of the available science for his own commercial gain. But the author stopped short of implying that any of these things inevitably lead to fascism, or that anyone who engages in capitalism or big business or the free market is always a fascist. And Mr Fromelle also included many interesting characters of independent thought and behavior.

I see Mr Fromelle has also written Toby and the Secrets of the Tree. I think I'll have to see whether I can get it from the library.

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