Friday, October 23, 2009

Toby Alone

By Timothee de Fombelle

Illustrated by Francois Place and translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Candlewick Press, 2009

$17.99, ages 9-12 , 384 pages

Toby Lolness, a nimble boy no taller than a crumb, flees the hatred of his people in this fast-paced Lilliputian adventure set in the branches of an oak tree.

At 7 years old, Toby is exiled with his parents, Maya and Sim, from the top of the Tree to the Low Branches, when Sim, a great scientist, refuses to share an invention that would speed up development on the Tree.

Sim is convinced his invention, a black box that converts the Tree's sap into energy, would be abused by weevil breeder Joe Mitch, who is tunneling out the Tree's trunk and digging out huge housing projects into the branches.

He maintains removing sap to power projects would put the Tree in peril. But his neighbors, who aren't convinced the Tree is alive, see his refusal to share his discovery as an impediment to progress and the Tree's council, increasingly under Mitch's thumb, sends the Lolness family to the Land of Onessa.

After several years in exile, however, the Lolness' are called back to the Treetop when Maya's mother dies. There, Sim's old friend Zef Clarac, the Treetop lawyer, hands Maya a rare, expensive Tree Stone, which belonged to her mother. The stone, though it has no powers, is the tree's treasure and would give absolute power to Mitch and his men if they got control over it.

Just as the Lolness family is about to leave for the Low Branches, Mitch and his men ambush them at Zef's house and demand the stone and Sim's black box. But thanks to Sim's quick wits, Toby, now 13, is able to slip out of Mitch's clutches with the stone, setting off a terrifying manhunt for Toby down the Tree.

With a bounty on his head and his parents in a dungeon in the Treetop, Toby flees for safety in the Low Branches, and along the way discovers the loyalties of old friends, is nearly fed to weevils, gets buried in a cave by snow, loses his dearest friend and falls from the Tree into the hands of the feared Grass People, who are believed to be planning an invasion of the Tree.

French playwright de Fombelle creates a fascinating, fun adventure while skillfully weaving in political commentary in this first book in a series translated from French. If your child loved the Littles or the Borrowers, they'll be enthralled by Toby's world and find it hard to wait for the next installment.

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