Since winning the Junior Fiction prize for Monkey Boy at last year’s NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, Donovan Bixley has not stopped working*. He appears to be the busiest illustrator in the country at the moment, because not only can he illustrate, he has proven now that he can also write. Not only that, he can write brilliantly well, and book awards judges agree.
Flying Furballs is Bixley’s new solo series, set in 1916 Europe, with DOGZ standing in as Germans, and CATs as the allied forces. Dogfight introduces young Pilot Claude D’Bonair and his hilarious counterpoint Syd Fishus, seeing them work together – with the help of Manx the flight engineer – to save the hero of the CAT forces, Major Tom, who is missing in action. Claude escapes calamity by the tip of his tail more than once as he flies through the air in this action-packed adventure story.
There are more puns and idioms than you can shake a paw at, and many of the characters have very familiar names. There is Major Tom of course, and the scion of the flying CATs, The Red Setter. There is also a General Fluffington, a Commander Snookums, and Mr Tibbles. Plenty of levity to ensure the adults reading this to their kids are as entertained as the children themselves.
It’s hard not to compare this directly with the series’ that Bixley has illustrated previously with Kyle Mewburn’s writing, and there are similarities in tone and target age group. Both the Dinosaur Rescue and Dragon Knight are also highly recommended. What I think sets it apart is the freedom of space that having a whole book to himself has given Bixley. He can illustrate each page as lavishly as he wishes, with the result that the book is a riot of joyfully drawn (personified) animals.
Five-year-old Dan really enjoyed being read this book, and it was the perfect length to allow us to read a couple of chapters a night and still be finished within the week. He was ready for more as we finished, so I think we will be snapping Flying Furballs up as they come out, for the next few years.
This book is great fun for lovers of action-packed books – adults who grew up on a diet of Tintin, Peanuts and Biggles, with a side of Top Gun, will love it just as much as their kids.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Flying Furballs: Dogfight
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Upstart Press
*Actually even before then, as by my count, there were upwards of 20 books illustrated or written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley released since the start of 2014. Phew!