CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011
The Boy in the Oak.
Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2010.
86 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Linda Ludke.
One night, as a full moon rose high in the sky, the Faeries gathered under the ancient Druidic Oak and spoke of the boy, and how to put an end to his cruelty. As the boy slept, his dreams were filled with nightmares. He cried out in his sleep, but no one in the house heard him.
No one, that is, except for one little Faerie that was sitting on his windowsill watching him as he slept. She had seen how bad and nasty he was, but she also knew that he had no one to teach him how to love and respect the natural world. This kind Faerie, a rare exception, believed that there is always some good in everyone. And so she placed a counter spell on him, in the hope that the Faeries' revenge could one day be reversed so that he might be saved.
In this haunting fable, a young boy angers the woodland Faeries. The child insensitively "trampled on the flowers. He tore limbs off the trees and carved his initials into their trunk." When he lit a fire in the base of an ancient Oak tree, the flames fizzled, but not the ire of the Faeries. These Faeries are not the delicate Tinkerbell sort - they pack a mean punch. "[S]hould you happen to come across one or trespass their world, ill fate will likely befall you." To put an end to the boy's destruction, the Faeries trapped him inside the tree. There he lingered, "between this world and the next." After a long search, his parents gave up hope of ever finding him.
Years later, a new family moved in and talked of chopping down the oak tree. In retribution, the Faeries made plans to steal their little girl. The boy, not wanting her to suffer his fate, pushed the girl back through the portal. This act of kindness broke the spell he was under and returned him to the human world.
Jessica Albarn's artwork gives this book an ethereal quality. Pencil sketches of faeries, insects and children line the margins. Most notable are the acetate overlays that are interwoven throughout the narrative. These translucent pages feature close-up photographs of butterfly wings, spider webs, flames, tree bark and flowers.
With its slim size, The Boy in the Oak resembles a picture book, but it is for older readers. The text has a formal and gothic tone: "[The tree's] belly stretched taut as it now played host to the boy." Fans of Laura Amy Schlitz's Night Fairy or Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles will enjoy this sophisticated offering.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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