Reviews /

Ferris

Authored by Kate DiCamillo
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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‘Every good story is a love story’, reads the tagline on the back of this latest book by award winning author Kate DiCamillo. Ferris is indeed a love story; eloquently, and with gentle wit and wisdom, conveying the concept of love in its many forms within families, friendships and communities.

Kate DiCamillo’s writing is varied, with some of her books being almost fable-like in style, they may be set in medieval castles or 20th century Florida, but all have themes of hope and belief, sometimes in the face of difficult or sad situations. Ferris is in some ways a departure as our heroine, Emma Phineas Wilkey or Ferris as she is known, is a child who is loved and is part of a happy family living in a close community. However, this does not mean that life is totally stress free for the Wilkeys and in Kate DiCamillo’s capable hands this slightly unconventional family comes to life in an endearing manner.

Ten-year-old Ferris, named after her rather dramatic and hasty birth that took place under the Ferris Wheel at the local fairground, is enjoying the summer break before she goes into fifth grade. Her little sister, Pinky, has vowed to become an outlaw, Uncle Ted has left Aunt Shirley and is living in the Wilkey basement painting a history of the world and Charisse, Ferris’s wonderful, glamorous grandmother, has started seeing a ghost at her bedroom door. Charisse tells Ferris that the ghost needs help with an ambitious plan. Ferris wants to assist but with Pinky running riot with a pair of pliers, Uncle Ted sending Ferris to spy on her aunt, and her father doing battle with raccoons in the attic it is increasingly difficult for Ferris to keep on top of things. She enlists the help of her best friend Billy Jackson, a thoughtful boy who hears music in his head and frequently stops in proceedings to play Mysterious Barricades on the piano. Life is chaotic and Ferris wonders and worries repeatedly how things will turn out but love finds a way to make almost anything possible even in the face of loss.

This book bears all the trademark features that regular readers of Kate DiCamillo’s stories will recognise. The writing is wonderful, emotions are expressed eloquently and with a turn of phrase that feels original and fresh. There are characters who only appear fleetingly but yet in a few sentences their personalities come to life, some are eccentric and some are wise but all of them have a place within Ferris’s life. A central theme within the story is the importance to Ferris of the meaning of words and the use of the correct vocabulary to describe a situation. Thanks to her fourth-grade teacher Mrs Mielk she knows that ‘Vocabulary is the key to the Kingdom! All of life hinges on knowing the right word to use at the right time’. Many of these characters and the individual threads are brought together towards the end of the story in a charming and kindly manner.

In addition to being enjoyed for its own sake as an individual read Ferris would be lovely as a class read aloud with much humour to enjoy. The literary and vocabulary references may also encourage children to expand their own understanding of the meaning and use of words. However, most importantly Kate DiCamillo has a rare gift as a storyteller; she writes with such care and wisdom that her stories stay with you for a very long time. She has a remarkable understanding of children’s emotions and in this book her words will comfort and reassure readers of all ages.