Cover image for The boy, the bird & the coffin maker
The boy, the bird & the coffin maker
Alberto, the town's coffin maker, and Tito, a runaway boy, both lonely after suffering tragic losses, learn the power of friendship as they try to escape the shadows of their pasts.
First American edition.
Physical Description:
190 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.7 4 194731.

Accelerated Reader 4.7.
Philomel Books,
Electronic Access:
Publication Date:

Publication Information:
New York, NY : Philomel Books, 2018.
Call Number:


Item Barcode
Call Number
Item Holds
33607003410167 New Juvenile Fiction WOODS

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Friendship and magical realism sparkle on the page in this heartwarming, delightfully eccentric illustrated middle-grade gem from an extraordinary new literary voice. Perfect for fans of A Snicker of Magic and The Penderwicks .

Alberto lives alone in the town of Allora, where fish fly out of the sea and the houses shine like jewels. He is a coffin maker and widower, spending his quiet days creating the final resting places of Allora's people.

Then one afternoon a magical bird flutters into his garden, and Alberto, lonely inside, welcomes it into his home. And when a kindhearted boy named Tito follows the bird into Alberto's kitchen, a door in the old man's heart cracks open. Tito is lonely too--but he's also scared and searching for a place to hide. Fleeing from danger, he just wants to feel safe for once in his life. Can the boy and the old man learn the power of friendship and escape the shadows of their pasts?

With a tender bond that calls to mind The Girl Who Drank the Moon , charming characters reminiscent of The Penderwicks , and the whimsy of A Snicker of Magic , this is a novel to curl up with, an extraordinary work of magical realism that makes the world feel like a warmer and happier place. Complete with dazzling interior illustrations, a gem from start to finish.

Praise for The Boy, the Bird & the Coffin Maker :

"A beautifully written debut about recovering from grief and finding hope through an unlikely friendship. The writing itself is a gorgeous lyrical prose laced with magical realism, like a Gabriel García Márquez story for young readers." -- BookTrust

★ "Woods has penned a gentle fable, one rich in hope that promotes the strength of kindness. Her magical realism nods to the like of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, perfectly tailoring the genre for a middle-grade audience. Anuska Allepuz's whimsical illustrations add to the magical feel. Sweet, earnest and not to be missed." -- Shelf Awareness , STARRED REVIEW

★ "Elegantly told from start to finish and enhanced by Allepuz's evocative images and decorations, debut author Woods has created a fairy tale that will linger with readers." -- Publishers Weekly , STARRED REVIEW

★ "This uplifting book will enthrallreaders, enveloping them in its gentle charm." -- Booklist , STARRED REVIEW

"Awash in magical realism, this is a gentle tale of two hearts, broken by a sometimes harsh world, who find solace, comfort, healing and safety in a new family. . . . A warm-hearted, beautifully told tale." -- School Library Connection

"A lyrical and melancholy tale [filled with] atmospheric writing." -- School Library Journal

"A quietly triumphant tale." -- Kirkus Reviews

"A gently compelling hybrid of intrigue and enchantment . . . filled with the redeeming magic of love and life." -- VOYA

Author Notes

Matilda Woods ( grew up in the small town of Southern Tablelands, Australia. She graduated from Monash University with a Masters of Social Work. Matilda splits her time between writing middle grade fiction and working as a youth social worker. The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker is her debut novel. She currently lives in the same small town where she grew up, with her four chickens, three dogs, two cats and one bird. Follow her on Twitter @MatildaWrites.

Reviews 2

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-6-A lyrical and melancholy tale about a lonely man who befriends a small boy and his bird. Alberto is the town coffin maker, having taken this role after a plague claimed his entire family and decimated the town of Allora, famous for its seaside location and flying fish. When a small boy named Tito, along with his pet bird Fia, sneaks into Alberto's home to steal food, the old man welcomes him and the two form a bond. Tito's father, a rather sinister-seeming character, is on the hunt for the boy, and Alberto helps Tito hide. The atmospheric writing and light touches of magical realism give the story a slightly fantastical feel. The blue typeface and illustrations add to this quality; each page is illustrated along its borders and there are additional full-page illustrations throughout. The measured pace of the story allows for character development, not only of Alberto and Tito but also for many minor characters, including a fisherman and the mayor. VERDICT Give to fans of Jessica Townsend's Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow or Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon. A strong purchase for large and medium-sized collections.-Jenni -Frencham, Columbus Public Library, WI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the beautiful town of Allora, where fish fly and every house is a brilliant hue, a plague has killed the family of carpenter Antonio. Thirty-one years later, Antonio has become the local coffin maker, spending more time with the dead than with the living. After he buries a young woman who had recently arrived in town, food begins disappearing from his home, and he discovers that she has left behind her 10-year-old son, Tito. The child is skittish, distrustful, and afraid of being discovered by his cruel father, who had abused his mother. But after Antonio nurses the desperately ill boy back to health, Tito slowly begins to trust Antonio and becomes his apprentice. Soon, the two form their own family, but the arrival of Tito's father threatens their bond. This magical tale, told from an omniscient viewpoint that roves among the characters, is interspersed with a story that Tito and Antonio share aloud of a magical land that just might be real. Elegantly told from start to finish and enhanced by Allepuz's evocative images and decorations, debut author Woods has created a fairy tale that will linger with readers. Ages 8-12. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



The Coffin Maker's First Coffin The town of Allora was famous for two things. The first was its flying fish, and the second was the beauty of its winding streets. Tourists came from all over the country to watch the fish fly out of the sea while artists came to paint, in pigment, the bright houses that rose like steps up Allora Hill. There were so many colors that the artists did not have enough pigments to paint them, and it was rumored (at least by the Finestra sisters) that the great artist, Giuseppe Vernice, had invented a whole new color just to paint the roof of their house. "Splendid Yolk, it was called," Rosa Finestra said to anyone who would listen. "Derived from the crushed eye of a peacock feather," Clara Finestra added with a wise nod. Yet though the sisters gushed about their bright home, the one next door was even brighter. Alberto Cavello's house was the highest house on the hill. If you went any higher, you would reach the graveyard at the top. It stood like a bright azure jewel glistening across the sea. And it wasn't just bright. It was loud. It was loud when Alberto and his wife, Violetta, moved in. It grew louder when their first child, a girl named Anna Marie, was born; louder still when their son, Antonio, came into the world; and even louder when a little miracle named Aida wailed for the first time within its bright walls. Alberto was a carpenter, the best in all of Allora. During the day he would build beds, tables and chairs for his paying clients, and at night he would build toys for his children. With each new toy Alberto made, a new sound filled the house: squeals of delight as Anna Marie jumped off her spinning chair, screams of anger as Aida cried for Antonio to give back her favorite doll, and cries of "Gallop on! Gallop on!" as this same Antonio raced his wooden horse up and down the stairs. Their house remained bright, loud and bustling for seven happy years until the sickness came.   The sickness appeared in the coldest month of winter, but it did not reach Allora until spring. The first to fall ill were the men working on a new railway that linked Allora to the north, then the doctors who tended them and the artists who had come to paint the town. Only one family was wealthy enough to flee. The mayor took himself and his family on a long holiday to a place the sickness had not reached. "Good luck!" he cried over his fat shoulder as a plush coach drawn by six white stallions carried them far away. In the beginning, the dead were buried in the graveyard--one, then two, then three to a single plot--but as the sickness spread, other measures had to be taken. A gate was built at the back of the graveyard and a thin staircase carved into the stone with steps leading down to the water. No longer buried, the dead were wrapped in blankets and cast out into the violent, surging sea. As the number of dead mounted and the number of living fell, the cobbled streets of Allora grew quiet. Houses went unpainted, and shutters, once thrown open to greet spring, were pulled tightly closed. Even the Finestra sisters didn't poke their big noses out. Just like the unfinished paintings that lay abandoned in the streets, the town of Allora itself began to fade. ***   The sickness rose up the hill--house by house--until it finally reached Alberto's home. It took the eldest child first. Alberto spotted the purple mark behind Anna Marie's left ear as she read a book in her favorite chair. Then Antonio fell ill. While he was ailing in his bed, the mark came upon little Aida. Violetta and Alberto tended to each child as they fell sick. They kissed them when they cried, hugged them when they whimpered, and when the time came for each of them to leave this world behind, they answered, "Yes, of course: one day, we will meet again." Keeping her promise, Violetta joined them two days later. The plague bearers came to collect their bodies that evening, but Alberto wouldn't let them. "I can't," he had said to the two men waiting at the front door. "I can't let you throw them away. Not into that cruel sea." Even from where he stood outside the highest house on Allora Hill, Alberto could see foam shooting up from where the waves crashed against the gray stones below. He could not bear to think of his family thrown in there. "You must get rid of them somehow," the men had replied. "You can't let them stay inside. It will spread the sickness quicker." "I'll bury them." "All the coffin makers are dead. We collected the last one this morning." "Then I'll make their coffins myself." And that is what Alberto did. He went into his workshop and for the first time built something for the dead instead of the living. He carved a coffin for his wife, a coffin for his eldest daughter, a coffin for his only son, and a coffin for little Aida. Each was smaller than the one before and, like Babushka dolls, could fit inside the other. When the coffins were finished and his family buried, Alberto returned to his workshop and began to make his own. But by the time he finished, the plague had left the town. The mayor returned from his holiday, the Finestra sisters reopened their shutters, and people passed gaily up and down the streets of Allora once more. But instead of joining them, Alberto sat beside his coffin every day, alone, waiting for the purple mark to come back and claim him too. The Boy and the Bird Thirty Years Later The boy stared out the window of the train. Steam billowed out of the chimneys and drifted up into the mountains. The boy had never seen mountains so tall or so wild. They reached above the clouds and stretched farther than his eyes could see. "You'll be flying out there in no time," the boy whispered to a small bird peering out of his pocket. She was enjoying the view too. "As soon as your wing is better, you'll be able to fly to the top of the tallest mountain in the world." "Twrp," the bird said with a small nod of her head. When the boy first found her, two months before, she had been black all over. But now sometimes, when the sun shone on her wings or when she ate a particularly tasty treat, her feathers would flash gold or silver or green in the light. Today, they were flashing all three. She must have been very happy. "You must know where we're going," the boy whispered to his bird. "Everyone who goes to Allora is happy. That's what my mum says. She says that Allora is the brightest and happiest place in the whole world." When she heard the word Allora , the bird's feathers grew even brighter, and she let out a loud trill that made several passengers on the train jump. "That's right," the boy said with a bright laugh. "Allora is going to be amazing. Mum says that in Allora you never get hungry because the fish jump out of the sea and straight into your mouth. She says you never get cold because even in winter the sun keeps the snow away. And, best of all, Mum says that Allora is so far away from everything else that once we get there, he'll never find us again." When she heard the final sentence, the bird's wings darkened and she pulled her head back into the boy's pocket. "Don't worry," the boy said to his little best friend. "Mum promised we'll be safe this time." But despite the boy's assurances, the bird refused to look out of his pocket, and for the rest of the train journey south, her feathers remained a deep shade of black. While the boy was convinced of Allora's safety, the bird, it appeared, was not. Excerpted from The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.