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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Timothee de Fombelle
Age Range: 12+
Toby Lolness is a mere 1.5 millimetres tall, and his entire world is contained within the branches of the great oak Tree. This is a miniature world of green bark hills, moss forests, watery caves, and mazes of mistletoe. For the people who live in the Tree, it is the only world they know. Toby’s father Sim, a scientist, makes a ground-breaking discovery about the source of the Tree's energy and how it could be systematically destroyed if exploited. As a result, he and his family are persecuted, banished to exile in the Low Branches and eventually captured, imprisoned and sentenced to death. Only Toby manages to escape and finds himself alone and on the run, hunted by his own people.
This is a tale which can be read on many different levels. Firstly, there is the fast paced adventure of Toby on the run, his encounters with larger-than-life characters, the hardship and betrayal that he must endure, his friendships, and the courage he must summon up to stay alive. On another level, there is the environmental message that underpins the story – an allegorical analysis of Global warming that the world faces today – which never comes across as `preachy'. Joe Mitch is the menacing developer who sets himself up as the all-powerful ‘Friendly Neighbour’ increasing his control of the Tree by creating a network of industrial digger weevils and soldiers ants who act as his bullies. The story conveys how power corrupts, how a society that is anxious to prosper can be frightened into becoming a totalitarian state, and the very destruction of the Tree’s life force through exploitation will in turn destroy their civilization.
There are some wonderful illustrations by Francois Place throughout including the poster map of the Tree on the inside of the dust jacket. The remarkable translation from French by Sarah Ardizzone (neé Adams), with its rich and flowing language, has maintained the ‘soul’ of the story. A refreshingly innovative book that is thoroughly thought-provoking as well as being a good adventure. Although aimed at young adults this is a book that should appeal to an audience of any age. To find out whether Toby manages to rescue his parents and save the Tree from destruction, readers will need to read the sequel Toby and the Secrets of the Tree.