Craig Silvey (author) and Sara Acton (illustrator)
Allen & Unwin $22.99
Craig Silvey’s first book for children aged 8+ is a delightful tale of camaraderie and derring-do. It features 11-year-old Annie and her adopted stray dog Runt. Runt is the first real friend Annie has ever had.
The pair live in Upson Downs in rural Australia with Annie’s family – an eccentric but lovable lot whose farm is being threatened by the greedy local landowner. Earl Robert-Barren is a villain without values who’s been stripping the townsfolk of their water and land for years.
Annie is a compulsive fixer. When she overhears her parents talking about their struggle to pay the “overdraft on the overdraft” she enters Runt in the local agricultural fair’s dog show. From there, she hatches a plan to enter a more lucrative prize in London and use the prize money to reduce her family’s debts.
The path to victory is not without hurdles. Runt will only obey Annie’s commands when no one else is watching – and therefore the huge crowd expected at the International Krumpets Dog Show is likely to thwart his performance.
A fortuitous meeting a wise ex-competitor (Bernadette) leads Annie to invent “blinkers” for Runt which enable him to compete in London. The whole town gets behind Annie, raising enough money for her to fly to the UK with her father Bryan.
Annie and Runt have spent hours in the backyard running through home-made agility courses, and there’s no doubt Runt is both fast and obedient. However, the dynamic duo must also contend with Fergus Fink, a cheat and saboteur who is craving the world title.
Annie learns a lot about her family as she grapples to win the money her family need to save their drought-stricken sheep farm, including that her mum is a frustrated fashion designer, dad a budding horticulturist and teenage brother a wannabe Evel Knievel.
Ultimately, what we see is a family who love one another and are willing to support each other to follow their passions. A wonderful message conveyed by a captivating story.
Postscript: On March 20, thirteen years after Jasper Jones was awarded Book Of The Year (in 2009), Australian independent booksellers awarded Runt their favourite book from last year, and the winner of The Indie Book Awards 2023 Book of the Year.