Felix and the Red Rats is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Here is James Norcliffe’s Q & A about the writing of this book.
Felix and the Red Rats tells two stories. The first, set in contemporary New Zealand, is the story of a typical Kiwi family who are preparing for the visit of their somewhat odd uncle. The Uncle, Felix, is famous for having written children’s books about an alternative world, Axillaris. The second story (told in alternate chapters) is set in Axillaris itself.
David, the narrator, is very interested in his uncle’s arrival and begins to read the books. When his older brother’s rats change colour overnight David suspects his uncle’s involvement. He begins to ask questions about his uncle, and the world portrayed in his books.
The story seemed very simplistic to me at first − the writing is uncomplicated and very accessible. The last half of the book though is quick paced and the story concludes beautifully leaving questions regarding the blurring of reality and fiction. I really liked it.
And I really liked the puzzles used in the story. They are addictive! My seven year old also liked them.
My favourite character was the mean older brother, Gray. Gray is richly described − the surly teenager who is mean to his younger brother just because he can be. David has learnt to keep away from him, and the different approaches Gray and David take in dealing with the mystery of the colour change rats are very consistent with their personalities. Gray explodes under the stress and David approaches the problem from a curious, gently investigatory process. I’d love to see Gray portrayed on screen − he would be awesome.
I felt that the story would be great for getting children into more detailed analysis of writing. For a story written in a straightforward and simple manner, the family created is vividly portrayed. The end of the story invites a sequel − but not in an obvious way. I’d enjoy exploring some of the unsolved mysteries in a future book.
Felix and the Red Rats is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards.
Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming
Felix and the Red Rats
by James Norcliffe
Published by Random House NZ