The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker
By Matilda Woods
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 978 1407 1769 1
Debut Australian author Matilda Woods has taken three very different ingredients – a boy, a bird and a coffin maker – and combined them to come up with a beautifully written novel for young and not-so-young readers.
Woods sets The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker in the Italian coastal town of Allora, a place famous for two things: flying fish that jump high out of the ocean, and the beauty of its city scenery. Tourists come to Allora to watch the fish, and artists come to paint the colourful houses and picturesque streets.
In summer, the light brings the colours of Allora vividly to life. Once, a famous artist had to actually invent a new colour called Splendid Yolk so he could capture the roof of one of the houses on canvas. The people of Allora are proud of their houses and proud of the beautiful little town that they call home.
Woods is a bit of an artist herself, using words to bring Allora to life in her novel. The setting is important to the story and she captures it perfectly in all its colours and shades.
Elderly Alberto Cavello lives alone in a house at the top of Allora Hill. He likes to keep himself to himself and doesn’t want any of his neighbours poking their noses into his business. When he was younger, Alberto was a carpenter, making furniture for his friends and toys for his children.
But then a terrible sickness invaded Allora, killing Alberto’s wife and children along with many of the townspeople. Alberto first carved coffins for his own family, and then his new business expanded.
Decades later, people have forgotten that Alberto Cavello was once a brilliant carpenter. Now they know him as the old man who lives on the top of the hill and makes coffins.
Alberto just works, hiding the loneliness and sadness that churn away inside him. His heart was broken when his wife and children died, and hope vanished from his life. But one day, it suddenly returns.
A bird flies into Alberto’s garden, and the old man decides to try and tame it. Suddenly, a young, malnourished boy runs into Alberto’s house. It turns out he is fleeing a brutal stepfather.
Alberto is faced with a choice. Should he ignore the boy’s plight or offer his help? He must make a momentous decision to make that will change the rest of his life.
Woods has created a timeless and magical town in Allora, and The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker makes the world around us more colourful, less selfish and kinder. It’s a book to sit down alone with, lose yourself in and totally enjoy.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.