Before I review the story, I’d just like to say: this is a beautiful children’s book. The book design nerd in me wants to take a moment to celebrate that multinational publishers are still producing high production quality books with local (ish – it’s Australian) content. This hardcover book with a spot-glossed dust jacket contains decent-quality paper and charming illustrations through the text. It’s an object that was made to be held, read, and treasured. If you’re in need of a gift for a hard-to-buy-for 8–12-year old, this would be a great choice.
Blue Dog is a prequel to Red Dog, which I admit I haven’t read or seen – Red Dog became a movie in 2011. Regardless, Blue Dog stands alone as a charming glimpse into life in Western Australia. The story follows a young boy named Mick, who is sent to live with his grandfather in the Pilbara region after the death of his father. Although the story is based mostly around Mick and his adventures with the red cloud kelpie he saves after a cyclone (the dog is aptly named Blue by Mick’s grandfather), this is a book more about place than about character or dog.
Louis de Berniѐres expresses some beautiful sentiments about place in this book, some of which really resonated with my own early life experiences in Australia: “This is the land where dreams are hatched. Then you go away and make them true. And all your life you dream of the Pilbara, where your dreams were made, because this place gets to you.”
It’s not overly dramatised, and is unlikely to inspire the same excitement in younger readers as robot dinosaurs or augmented-reality catchables, but it is well-crafted and sincere; cultural concepts are expressed with clarity and respect, the vocabulary used is challenging and engaging, and the whole story rings with a nostalgic harmonic without being preachy or self-indulgent. Although I wasn’t able to locate the story in time (it could have been about the region anywhere from the ’80s to early ’00s), the insights into place and character were truly delightful.
It wasn’t until reading the Afterword that I realised the interesting conditions that led to this book. Inspired by the upcoming movie prequel, de Berniѐres was asked to write a tie-in, which he admits is “written for twelve-year-olds, and will probably be read mainly by adults.” Regardless of age, this beautiful little book will captivate many a reader.
Reviewed by Emma Bryson
by Louis de Berniѐres
Published by Knopf Australia