Isobelle Carmody

The Legend of Little Fur, book 1

Penguin Books Australia (2005)

ISBN: 9780670040933

Reviewed by Rachel Holkner (this review was first published in February 2008)

The first thing you notice on picking up the first of Isobelle Carmody’s Little Fur series is that it’s fuzzy! The small, hardcover book is bound in a soft velvety cloth which is warm to the feel. The entire book is a delight to touch and read, being small enough to hold in one hand, heavy and solid, and within, superbly laid out. In fact it won an Australian Publishers Association Book Design Award in 2006.

What’s more the contents of the book hold up to this seeming extravagance. Little Fur: The Legend Begins introduces us to the half troll, half elf creature who lives in a magically protected forest close to a city. Little Fur is a healer and uses her skills to cure animals which come to her injured or in sickness. But she has never left her forest, until the day she must seek help across the city to stop humans from burning down trees.

When I heard Carmody speak about this book, before I had read it, I learnt that she had insisted on doing the internal black and white illustrations herself as they were so close to her heart – the story having been born out of one told to her young daughter. I approached them then with some trepidation as she had confessed to not being an artist and requiring guidance from artist colleagues. Fortunately she must have got some great advice, for while unlikely to win any prizes, the drawings are appealing and complement the text with their slight naivety and shaky lines.

Little Fur: The Legend Begins could have very easily slipped into over-sweet and sentimental prose, however it has a slight edge of darkness that keeps the story grounded. Although there are many mentions of trolls, elves, pixies, and earth magic, there are no fairies, no magical creatures of great beauty and only the birds fly. Little Fur is put into real danger at times, suffers injury and self-doubt, and the ending does not come too easily.

Very young children would benefit from having this book read to them – while they will love the character of Little Fur and her friends (two street-wise cats and a crow) – some of the ways information is presented might need further conversation. Little Fur describes things from her own experiences, so cars are living road beasts, electricity is sky-fire and chain-link fences are “webbed”.

The environmental theme is beyond obvious, but as a story aimed at lower primary school children I think this works to its advantage. I could see the text used in a classroom to introduce concepts of conservation and ecology, not to mention comradeship, bravery and self-reliance. A child reading the book on their own would also have a lot of material to daydream about, including the notion I am having fun with, which is: “How far can you walk while remaining in direct contact with the soil or a living plant?” Let’s hope their concrete footpaths are as riddled with cracks as the ones around my house.