Southcrop Forest – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith

Southcrop Forest (Paperback)
by Lorne Rothman
184 pages
Published 2008 by iUniverse, Inc.

This books is for children and young people (and everyone else) from reading level 9-12 upwards
ISBN-10: 0595495885
ISBN-13: 978-0595495887

Part fantasy quest, part natural history, "Southcrop Forest" has recently been named an Award-Winning Finalist for Nature Writing in the National Best Books 2008 Awards, USA Book News.

"Southcrop Forest" is a children's book - and more. It is steeped in nature, science and Canadian history, made accessible through an engaging, Tolkienesque narrative. A menagerie of plants and animals parades across its pages. Threats from urban sprawl and climate change are central to the plot.

"Southcrop Forest" is an animal fantasy, with a young protagonist who faces terrible dangers, daunting tasks, impossible odds and his own fears. But what a strange protagonist. He is Fur, a colony of caterpillars--a single creature, with one voice and one mind made from a collective. And his companion in this story is Auja, a young oak tree.

Auja lives in Southcrop Forest and Southcrop is in danger. Tree civilization is built upon a subterranean communication network - like a worldwide web for trees, a tree Internet. The hubs of this web are the trees' special farms that hold the source of all tree power. And the last farms in Southcrop are about to be destroyed by humans. The farms of Southcrop are unlike any other. They hold a secret treasure, only just discovered - a treasure so great it could change the world for trees everywhere. But Southcrop Forest is a fragment, bounded by highways and sprawl. Since trees can't walk and their communication lines have been cut, they cannot spread their new-found gift across the land.

The adventure begins when Auja discovers little Fur amongst her branches, a legendary creature not seen for a thousand years. Though small and meek, Fur can travel through the forest and communicate with trees. Fur embarks on a desperate quest to gather the trees' great treasure and carry it across Oak River to the forests of Deep Sky. Ghoulish enemies hunt him on his journey of enlightenment as he learns about the ecology of his world, the threat of humans, and finally, the eerie secret of his existence.

Author, Lorne Rothman states, "I wanted to write an exciting, mythical fantasy but one in which all the creatures and places are real. I wanted to pull kids away from their computer screens and help them to see the nature that's all around us." Readers agree he succeeded. "There has never been a book like this," says "Makes you see nature in a fresh way." And fourteen-year old Ian McCurley, reviewer for Reader Views observes, "Though the book includes many scientific facts, they are expressed in a way perfect for children."

“Southcrop Forest” is a little in the genre of Watership Down and other similar novels and stories but with a twist and this twist is that of the climate problems our Earth is faced with, and we are, ultimately.

While it may be seen as a whimsical story, by some, as we are here having talking trees and a talking colony of tent caterpillars, it is a great educational tool for environmental education of children and young people. While, probably, more suited for those young people that are above elementary school age, I would say that anyone who can read well enough from age 9 or 10 up will definitely enjoy this book and learn a great deal from it,with regards to the environment, natural history and also something about Ontario, Canada.

One could call this book cute, in a way, and I must say that I have enjoyed it immensely and it was one of those where, although you had to, you did not want to have to put it down. You just wanted to carry on reading it to find out how the quest is progressing.

“Southcrop Forest” is an extremely well written book by someone who is able to convey the aspects of science and natural history to the reader through the medium of this story to a great depth, aided by the copious endnotes by the author. Those are very helpful indeed though I – personally – think that they might have been better still as “footnotes” than as “endnotes”, as that would eliminate the going back to the end of the book every so often to check up on the explanations.

I have enjoyed this book immensely and to the greatest extent this book is a page turner, and this becomes especially so towards the last chapters and sections. The reader just wants to know how Fur is going to fare in his quest to save Southcrop Vision and here especially it becomes very difficult to put the books down until one has finished reading.

This is most certainly a book that I can most highly recommend. I am a forester by original trade and I know very much what the author is talking about and I believe that would be most hard pressed to find any other book or text that can explain this all in the same easy way and manner to not just children and young people, even though this book is intended for them.

“Southcrop Forest” should be in as many libraries in Canada and elsewhere as possible, and especially, if they still have them, each and every school library in English-speaking countries and schools.

About the Author

Lorne Rothman holds a Ph.D. in Zoology and studied ecology at the Universities of Toronto, British Columbia and Alberta. He lives in mid-town Toronto, Canada with his wife, two daughters and two cats, under the canopy of one of the finest stands of old growth oak in the city.

© M Smith (Veshengro), December 2008