The Red Wind by Isobelle Carmody
Age: 9+ (independent reading), 6+ (adult reading to child)
Themes: friendship, fantasy, adventure
The Red Wind is an enchanting, whimsical story which will stay in the reader’s imagination long after they finish the book. I picked it up whilst in a bookshop in Australia, attracted by the beautiful illustrations on the cover and also the gold badge marking it as ‘Book of the Year’ (Children’s Book Council of Australia).
The story is about two brothers, Bily and Zluty. The reader is never told exactly what sort of creatures Bily and Zluty are, but they could perhaps be described as something akin to a hobbit but more animal-like in appearance. The story opens with Bily and Zluty living peacefully, ‘in a cottage in the middle of a vast bare plain.’ The brothers are very different in character, Bily being rather timid and Zluty being adventurous and brave. Despite their differences however, the brothers have a deeply loving and caring friendship with each other.
The story opens when the braver of the two, Zluty, is preparing for his expedition to the Great Forest where he will gather enough supplies to last them throughout the winter. However, on the eve of departure, a strange red mist appears in the sky. Bily and Zluty are rather unnerved by this mysterious red mist but decide that Zluty’s expedition is too important to delay. Therefore Zluty bravely sets out, leaving the rather anxious Bily at home to make pots, weave rugs and tend to the garden produce.
As Zluty doggedly continues his journey, the red mist looms larger, bringing with it a horrendous storm. Both Zluty and Bily are forced to battle for their lives as red rocks fall from the sky. Zluty takes cover in the forest whilst Bily takes shelter in the cellar. The dreadful storm forces both characters to find bravery and courage they didn’t realise they had – particularly so for the timid Bily who encounters a frightening and unexpected visitor.
Reading The Red Wind took me on a magical and moving journey through Isobelle Carmody’s whimsical world. The writing is mysterious and subtle and the reader is left with many unanswered questions: what sort of creatures are Bily and Zluty? What are the red stones that fall from the sky? What are the strange metal objects strewn across the landscape? Clues slowly unfurl which hint to some answers, but not all. For example, I learnt that Bily and Zluty began life by hatching from a metal egg. However, so deftly does Carmody captivate readers into her enchanted world that the reader is happy to leave these questions unanswered. Saying that, I am keen to read the next two books in this trilogy to see whether any more light is shed on these mysteries.
When I teach creative writing to children, I try to explain the different between ‘telling’ the reader about characters versus ‘showing’ the reader. My personal preference is for writing that shows the characters developing and the plot unfolding, rather than the less subtle approach of explicit telling. Isobelle Carmody is a great example of ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’, and even then she still leaves a pleasing amount that isn’t even shown, let alone told.
Accompanying the story are charming illustrations full of atmosphere and expression. They are drawn by the author herself – further fruit of Carmody’s talented creativity.
It isn’t hard to see why The Red Wind won the Australian ‘Children’s Book of the Year’ award. It is an enchanting story that will delight children as young as six. (For independent readers it is suitable for 9+, but for adult reading to child, it’s suitable for 6+). If you are looking for something fresh and original, then I highly recommend The Red Wind.