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Review: Toby and the Secrets of the Tree by Timothee de Fombelle

Toby and the Secrets of the Tree
By Timothée de Fombelle
Performed by Peter Berkrot
Brilliance Audio (Candlewick)
ISBN: 9781441888761
8 Compact Discs / Approx. 9.5 hrs
Grades 5-8
In Stores

Some stories keep it simple. You got your main characters, a straightforward plot, a manageable theme, and a couple surprises to keep you on your toes. Toby and the Secrets of the Tree (the sequel to Toby Alone) does not subscribe to any of this. De Fombelle creates another sprawling microscopic epic full of colorful characters, intertwined plot threads, and grand themes. A fitting conclusion to Toby’s tale.

It’s amazing that so much can happen within the branches of a solitary tree. Toby returns from years in exile with the grass people to save his love (Elisha) from the clutches of ex-best friend Leo Blue, only to find that conditions in the tree have been getting worse. Developer-turned-villain Joe Mitch is ruling with an iron fist, destroying the tree and enslaving citizens, including Toby’s parents Sim and Maya Lolness. A wanted man, Toby must keep his identity hidden to save his loved ones. But Sim, Maya, and Elisha are clever, planning escapes of their own, leading to a showdown with Joe Mitch for the survival of the tree.

Unlike Toby Alone, which spent substantial time world-building, Secrets of the Tree is more plot-focused. While de Fombelle still makes time for description (the bird’s egg fortress where Elisha is held is a memorable example), there are fewer descriptive flights of fancy to slow readers down.

Peter Berkrot manages this large cast of characters with skill and a sense of humor. His ability to create distinct voices and speech patterns for each of the numerous characters helps immerse the listener into the story.

As this is the second installment of a two-part story, it will be best for readers to start at the beginning with Toby Alone. For those whose tastes run epic, this is a story to note.

Review copy from Brilliance Audio.

Listen to an audio sample from Toby and the Secrets of the Tree.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Thank you for your great review I only just finished reading this second installment about Toby and I loved it. I did not realise there was an audio version it might not be available in Australia yet.

    I really enjoyed listening to this little audio sample. I will share it with the children in my school.

  2. I can see how these two books could be a jewel-like read, but I had them on audio (for SLJ), and they were just excruciating. The way the narrative loops and nests, especially in the first one, which is all flashbacks and memories, is really hard to follow. It’s a very rare example of what I think is probably a terrific book that just doesn’t work on audio.