________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 31 . . . . April 13, 2012


Raven Bramblebutt and the Feral Children.

David Goodfellow. Performed by Meg Roe.
Vancouver, BC: Bramblebutt Productions (www.ravenbramblebutt.com), 2011.
3 CD boxed set, 6 hrs., 42 min., $25.00 download from, Audible.com, itunes tba, $35.00 boxed set in stores.

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Kris Rothstein.

**˝ /4



You see, this is the nature of magic. It was improbable that Sevilla Ray should shrink to one third of her size and ride away on her Irish Setter but it was impossible that her running shoes should shrink as well. True magic is doing what is impossible but really very sensible.

Ten-year-old Sevilla Ray has a special ability. When she is frightened, she shrinks down to a height of 18 inches tall. Her parents know about her strange power, but it isn’t until an altercation with an angry lady at the dog beach that Sevilla’s friend, Mary Bruce, witnesses the change. This disrupts their friendship, and soon Sevilla’s secret is out at school. Sevilla and her family spend most of their time in Leavenworth, Washington, although they live part-time in Vancouver (this strand seems extraneous to the story and the descriptions of Vancouver geography and history are both obsessive and tedious). In this small town, Sevilla and her friends live happy, comfortable lives. But Sevilla has a nemesis - the mean Librarian. And when Sevilla and her friends meet a raggle-taggle group of kids who live in the woods, they hear a surprising story which suggests that the Librarian is more than just mean. These feral children are convinced that she is witch who is trying to kidnap them, using gingerbread as a lure. So Sevilla tries to outfox the witch, understand her own magic and perfect riding around on the back of her favourite dog while in her tiny state.

     The most serious problem with this audiobook, which runs approximately six hours, is that it takes more than an hour to get going. The first few chapters are superfluous to the plot -- meandering and confusing for the listener. There is no proper introduction to the characters or setting or any clue what the main story arc will be, and the listener enters the story utterly lost. Unconventional openings can add interest, and a dramatic incident can kick-start a book, but, in this case, the writing is confused and clunky. While the plotting and pacing improve steadily as the story progresses, this project would have benefited greatly from the expertise of a good editor. There are almost entire chapters which could have been cut in order to find and emphasize the real story. The chapters, themselves, are also too long, usually around half an hour each. There is a fair amount of over-editorializing in the book, explaining things in an obvious manner and providing a great deal of information, background or otherwise, which is not needed.

     It is interesting that author David Goodfellow conceived of this self-published project as an audiobook only. Perhaps he wanted to make use of the wonderful possibility for theatricality and performance in the audio format. If so, he got all he could ask for from actress Meg Roe. Roe often plays children in the theatre. and it is her delivery of the children’s voices (rather than the narration or adult voices) which is most effective. Sevilla has a large group of friends, and Roe has a distinctive voice for each, some of them quite hilarious but believable as kids. She is an excellent reader and just right for this type of story. Goodfellow has also used the services of a musician, but the musical interludes are not as effective. Used between chapters, I found the music a little off-putting and random, not adding anything essential to the flavour of the story. Sevilla befriends the isolated feral child Tuva and loses her connection with her former best friend Mary Bruce, and through these storylines Goodfellow explores a lot of interesting questions about childhood friendships and relationships between kids. There is a lot of good material about camaraderie, but it is too bad that some of the other themes remain buried and underdeveloped. Sevilla is a fun character with lots of potential, but, despite having so much airtime, she doesn’t develop as much as she needs to. Some of the things she says and thinks just don’t ring true or are a little too flat. Goodfellow has a lot of original and interesting concepts here, and eventually he finds a decent story, but there a lot of problems with organization and clarity. As a whole, Raven Bramblebutt and the Feral Children is rough, but it has redeeming features, and some listeners will find the time commitment worthwhile for Roe’s entertaining performance and the modern reimagining of a Hansel and Gretel tale.

Recommended with reservations.

Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent and reviewer in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.