Tuesday 11 October 2011


Northwood by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921529801
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Northwood is a thoroughly wonderful story. It is refreshing and quirky with wonderful characters, an unusual setting and a fast-paced plot. Cecilia Undergarment is our hero. She is likeable, though unremarkable except for one detail: the ability to talk to, and understand, animals. It is this ability which starts off the story's chain of events when she discovers that her neighbour Mr Proctor has been mistreating his dog Rocky. Cecilia rescues Rocky and in a fit of rage Mr Proctor bulldozes Cecilia's balloon house and she floats away, landing in the mysterious Northwood from which none who have ventured have returned.

The book begins with the narrator talking directly to the reader and its a device that works well. I was drawn into Cecilia's world immediately. Her balloon house seems entirely plausible and her rather unfortunate surname is never sniggered at. Northwood has a feel reminiscent of a fairy tale although Cecilia is not your fainting female character waiting to be saved by a prince in shining armour. Always polite and considerate, she is nevertheless strong and courageous. Humour is filtered throughout the story (the twins are marvelous). The black lions in the forest add an extra element of malevolence but they are not evil; they are lions acting as lions will.

Donovan Bixley's black-and-white illustrations add to the pleasure of reading this book and are in keeping with the nostalgic feel. The cover is a winner and will be sure to draw readers to pick up the book. It depicts Cecilia and Rocky running through the forest and the lurking black lions and hints at all the action, adventure and fantasy to be revealed.

Northwood is a book which shows that strength does not need to be brutal and respect needs to be earned. It is uplifting and never didactic. One of the books of 2011 for its originality, quirkiness and sense of wonder. I expect to see it shortlisted for many awards and highly recommend it for mid to upper primary school children.

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