Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A different dog by Paul Jennings

This is a story of need, and whether dog or human, the importance of finding your own voice and redemption in a world of chaos and cruelty.  Kids Book Review

Well here is a very different book from the much loved Australian author Paul Jennings.  I read my first Paul Jennings story in 1985 - it was published in a little magazine that used to be produced by Puffin called Puffinalia.  One shot toothpaste is a Paul Jennings story I continue to read over thirty years later.

Someone mentioned A different dog. It arrived in our library a couple of months ago and I finally saw it on the shelf and bought it home.

Yes this is a different book.  It has Paul's trademark short sentences and easy reading style but this slim volume (81 pages) has a serious and urgent tone.  This is a poignant story which does not need the humour we usually associate with other books and short stories by Paul Jennings and you need to know this book truly is a gem.

We talk to the students about the concept of 'show don't tell' and in this book Paul Jennings shows he is a master of this technique. As the story opens the boy prepares to enter a running competition.  Without explaining his dire circumstances in so many words we know things are very tough for this boy and his mum.  His bed has collapsed to the floor because they used the wood to keep warm.

"Today I will win some money ... And then mum can buy two beds. ... And we can fix the broken window. And she won't have to work in the orchard in the winter."

He sets off for the race.  A car stops and offers him a lift.  A boy called Skinny Luke leers at him and says "It's talk or walk."  This is our first clue that this boy cannot speak.  He shakes his head and continues on foot.  A van speeds past him and crashes down into a steep gully.  The driver is dead but there is a dog.  The final chapter will utterly astonish you.

With only 82 pages this book would be perfect for a reluctant reader in senior primary and coincidentally these readers were/are the intended audience for all those short stories penned by Paul over many years beginning with his collection Unreal.

I would follow this book with some titles from a very old series called Surfers.  They are not about surfing but are instead about boys who find themselves in difficult and sometimes quite frightening situations where they need to draw on inner resources to survive.  Look for books like Last Bus Robert Swindells, Deep Water by Ann Turnbull and Forbidden Game by Malorie Blackman.  All of these need to be republished.

Some news for readers of this blog :

This is the last book I am able to borrow from my school library but I will continue to blog as I now explore the public library and other school libraries.  This may mean I sometimes talk about books that are not found in our school library but I am sure you will be able to find them somewhere.  I have been so lucky to work in a very well resourced school library and I know I will miss my collection and all the book shopping but my 'need to read' means I will still find all those great books - just in a different place.

I am happy that I found A Different Dog to share for this significant post - it is perfect in so many ways.  Quick to read, Australian, is has an unpredictable plot, ideal for reluctant boys and it felt good to read a book linked to my first library back in 1985 - a perfect circle of experience.

Once again, Jennings proves himself to be a master of engagement from start to finish – and leaves us wanting more.  Reading Time

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