Paul Jennings has written many books for children of all ages. Most of his books are funny and entertaining. This novella is a departure for him. It is pitched at 10-14 year-olds, and I would say the older end of this. Don’t be deceived by this slim book. It is not for young ones. Having read it, I wouldn’t give it to my nine-year-old for some time. I think it could sit quite comfortably in a collection for adults.
An unnamed boy lives with his unemployed mother in impoverished circumstances. His bed has been burned for firewood and his clothes are tattered.
He heads off on his own to try and win the local race in order to win the prize of one thousand dollars. On the way he encounters fellow student Skinny Luke and his sister and we discover that he does not speak. Later in the book we find out why.
Then he sees a van out of control on the road and finds it has gone down the cliff. He goes down and discovers it crashed with a man inside. ‘He knew what he was looking at. Death’.
He cannot cry out for help. And then he sees the dog he spotted in the window of the van as it passed him.
Their time together while stranded in the forest, the subsequent rescue and his return home were some of the most beautiful pages I have read. Only 82 of them in total, illustrated. But there is so much depth, empathy and tenderness in so few words, I was amazed at the talent of this man.
Issues of poverty, disability, bullying, are overlaid with the boy’s resilience, perception and strength. Ideal for older reluctant readers, because of the length of the book, or mature younger ones ready for books with these issues. I can see this book winning a lot of awards.