Well done Puffin for publishing this fabulous little Australian chapter book! I loved it from page 1 to page 119. Why am I praising the publisher? This is a story with a very authentic Australian flavour which is not surprising given the credentials of the author Melina Marchetta. There is no way this book will be taken up by the US market and this makes me cheer. Our children need books set in their own time and place. Danny is our Australian school boy hero. He lives in a very recognizable neighborhood and attends the local Catholic Primary school. His class teacher is a fearsome beast and I love her! I also laughed at all the little playground groups in Year 4 such as the soccer kids, handball, netball, the ‘So you think you can dance?’ girls, cricket players, homework kids, marble players, card players and the hopscotch girls.
“The only thing the kids from St Raph’s had in common was that all them knew that way, way, way beyond the basketball courts, the classrooms, the tuckshop, the bubblers, the toilets and the school hall, there was a patch of grass and then a dip and everything that rolled beyond the patch of grass and the dip disappeared. Every single time.” The real issue here is no one is brave enough to venture into the gully because of the Gorgon who has lived there for years and years. Countless hundreds of balls, and other objects are held in his clutches never to be seen again.
Our unlikely hero is Danny Griggs. He has to find a way to go down into the gully because he has just booted the soccer team’s lucky ball, the one signed by Harry Kewell no less, straight into the gully. Trouble is Danny has a huge secret, well actually it is not a secret because everyone knows, Danny is scared of everything. He is scared of his friend Bella because she is smarter and taller then him, he is scared of Jackson, another friend, because he often just wants to talk and just talking scares Danny but most of all he is scared of the school bully Simmo. Danny is even scared of using the telephone in case the person on the other end of the line can’t remember who he is.
Danny may be scared but he also has amazing strengths. He is a thinker and an organizer and he is very skilled in negotiation. For this crisis he will need all these skills to bring his friends and class mates together to conquer the gorgon once and for all.
I especially loved the character of Mrs Ruby, the Year 4 teacher. Any issue in class is resolved with find-a-word puzzles – dangerous - peril, hazard, risk, threat, menace, jeopardy. Mrs Ruby has a find-a-word for every situation. Other class rules include no eating in class, no green pens, no sharpening of pencils in to sharp point to jab in someone’s arm, no using the S words – shut up or stupid and no getting up from your desk to put a paper in the bin!
This is a book to make you laugh and think and cheer. The ending is simple and predictable but that is all part of the charm. As soon as I finished this book I wanted to put it into the hands of a teacher and ask them to read it to a class because it is a book that demands to be shared.
The idea of these Pocket Money Puffins is to celebrate seventy years of Puffin books, written by favourite authors at a pocket money price. As far as I can tell there are fourteen titles in this series. The first one I picked up was Magic Puffin: A Birthday Surprise but it didn’t really grab me. I will now go back to it and try again and I plan to pick up more of these little books I am sure many will be winners with our Junior Primary readers.
You can preview the whole of the first chapter from The Gorgon in the Gully and when you do I am sure you will want to rush out and borrow this book from your school library and read it read it read it! Look out too for all the references to favourite books like Beast Quest. When you finish this book you should look for NIPS XI by Ruth Starke it is a longer book but it has the same charm and wonderful team work of The Gorgon in the Gully.