The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz, 208 pp, RL 3
The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker by debut author Matilda Woods with illustrations by Anuska Allepuz is exactly the kind of book I would want to write if I ever wrote a children's book. Believe me, as someone who has worked with kid's books for over 20 years in almost all aspects of the business, I think a lot about what gets published and what I would want to contribute to that vast arena. It would have to be as out of the ordinary as possible. And magical. And vivid. And about people connecting and caring for each other. The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker has all of these elements and they come wrapped in a gorgeous book, printed entirely in blue ink with spot illustrations by Allepuz gracing the borders of every page and full page illustrations throughout.
As much as I love The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker, I was initially put off by the title and the brief description of the book. I am a bit weary of children's books with a foundation of sorrow and was worried that Woods' book might fit into that category, which it doesn't. She creates a world for her story to unfold in that is just enough like ours, but not ours to create a comfortable distance. Allora is a town that is famous for two things, flying fish and the "beauty of it's winding streets. Tourists came from all over the country to watch the fish fly out of the sea while the artists came to paint, in pigment, the bright houses that rose like steps up Allora Hill." In fact, rumor has it that the great artist, Giuseppe Vernice, invented the color, "Splendid Yolk," derived from the eye of a peacock feather, to paint the roof of the Finestra sisters' home. Allora sounds like a fairy tale village set on the Amalfi coast or possibly a coastal cliff town somewhere in South America. Alberto Cavallo, once a carpenter and wood worker, now a coffin maker, lives alone in Allora in a home that was once noisy and alive with the hustle of children and a wife. Thirty years before this story begins, Allora was hit with a sickness that took so many, Alberto's wife and children included, that the town graveyard became overrun and the dead were, "wrapped in blankets and cast out into the violent, surging sea." Alberto made the coffins for his family and for the townspeople. Expecting to fall ill, he even made his own coffin.
Into Alberto's life come a boy and his pet bird, Fia. When the boy first found Fia, she was newly hatched and black all over, her wing was broken. Months later, Fia would, "flash gold or silver or green," or all three when she was happy, which she was when she heard the name Allora. The boy, Tito Bonito, is running from his father, a possessive and cruel Caribineer. Alberto gently welcomes this boy and his bird into his quiet life, hiding them when he learns of the danger they are in. As Tito's father comes closer to finding him, Alberto reads, The Story of Isola, a book that was a favorite of his daughter's, out loud to Tito at bedtime each night. In one beautiful moment as the suspense of The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker comes to a peak, the story of the magic, mysterious mountain Isola, the secret of Fia's origins and an enormous, elaborate coffin Alberto has built for the corpulent, self-important mayor of Allora come together for a deeply satisfying ending to a story you don't want to end.
Kudos to Matilda Woods and Anuska Allepuz for making this superb book. Allora, Fia, Tito and Alberto, and all the other marvels Woods infused The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker with (like chocolate wolves, flowers made of rubies and droplets of never-ending fire) will live in my memory for years to come.
Source: Review Copy
More from Anuska Allepuz!
Allepuz debuted her first authored AND illustrated picture book this year! And, she is the illustrator for a new book in the Little People, BIG DREAMS series of easy-to-read biographies about important women that focus on the childhood experiences that shaped their adult lives.