I was inspired to purchase Otto Tattercoat & the Forest of Lost Things after hearing about it from Erin at My Shelves are Full and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Otto Tattercoat & the Forest of Lost Things has a wonderful Cosiness to its fantasy with a good heaping of peril and danger as we explore the coming of age of Otto as his world falls apart, is made and unmade over and over as he searches to be reunited with his mother in a frozen city.
With the mystical and the mundane smashing up against each other and ethical questions undulating beneath this is a tale that keeps evolving and growing into something rather wonderful.
Otto is brought to a frozen city by his seamstress mother looking for a new life after Otto’s father dies, and she believes her skills as a coat maker will make them their fortune in this chilled to the bone city.
But the hearts of the people of this city are as cold as the temperature gauge as Otto is plunged into the darker side of humanity when his mother fails to return on the first day.
Otto sees the frozen values of this city first as a homeless boy then as a child slave in Frau Ferber’s Boot polish factory and when he escapes he finds a motley crew of children as a new family but with ‘honest’ Tattercoats (not thieves, they only steal what they need to survive and never more!) children who sleep huddled next to chimney stacks in the hope of surviving the bitterly cold nights.
But he is determined to find his mother, even if that means venturing into the haunted woods around the city, and when HE doesn’t return his friends follow because Tattercoats ALWAYS help another in need.
When Nim was little she had always wanted to venture into the woods surrounding Hodeldorf. But then she’d heard some truly terrible stories -stories of people going into the woods and never coming out- and her dreams of venturing beyond the city walls disappeared
Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things explores the concept of greed versus need and particularly takes shots at the unnecessary evils of capitalism- nothing is ever enough for Frau Ferber, ever chasing the bottom line of cost to biggest profit to spite a mother dead for decades to the point where she is not only using child slave labour, starving them & setting higher and higher targets to improve her profit but is ‘disappearing’ no longer useful children instead of letting them free.
The Tattercoats in comparison have nothing yet have a strict code of conduct including stealing only what is necessary and only taking a new coat when their existing one is worn to tatters- when people of the town wear two or more coats just to pop outside!!
None of the adults in this city care about us. They see us tattercoats sleeping on the rooftops and starving in the streets everyday and none of them ever try to help. No one cares about the children in the factory they only care about themselves.
Scattered with folk stories in a similar but different styling to The Girl Who Speaks Bear. The folk stories embed a magical context to the town freezing slowly to death
Nods, tributes and homages to classic fairy tales abound in the pages from Matchstick girls to Hansel & Gretel, even nursery rhymes and so many more yet don’t feel ‘staid’ or cliched for their appearance they feel like they belong and are part of the realism of this world
The setting within and outside the city had the comparative feel that I loved in Nevertell in places with the cold harsh reality of the freezing, unfriendly streets where children could freeze to death & no one but other street kids to mourn them compared against the wobbling and blurring of those edges between a magical world and the mundane in a frosty snow bitten landscape that opens up into a world of wonder and magic.
There’s a lot of room for using this book in an education cross curricular manner or in discussion tying into Victorian/Industrial Revolution depth studies in History, exploring the concepts and tropes within fairy tales or comparison with Oliver Twist and indeed discussion about the ethics of businesses and the questions of cheap goods and fast fashion.
However it stands alone as just a wonderfully entertaining tale packed with peril and heart and a sense of righting wrongs and the green shoots of hope to make a better fairer world. Absolutely brilliant.
Otto Tattercoat & the Forest of Lost Things by Matilda Woods is published by Scholastic