Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This is a charming picture book for younger readers (from 3 years) from the well-credentialed writer Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley. The book’s concept is credited to Ben Smith Whatley, Bruce’s son.
Jackie French’s long interest and concern for wombats, going back at least to ‘Diary of a Wombat’ (2002), probably played a part as well.
This story is set long, long ago when mega-fauna roamed the earth. The main character is Dippy, a giant wombat-like creature who goes on an innocent-abroad type adventure.
Whatley’s illustrations are excellent. They help to tell the story in its broad strokes as well as giving us the more subtle nuances, such as facial expressions. The deft touch of giving Dippy two, spaced front teeth may strike a chord of recognition with more observant pre-schoolers.
While most of the creatures, including Dippy, are darker toned, there are the small daubs of brighter colour to change the overall effect. Thus, Dippy has a bright blue nose and the T-Rex a red tongue.
There’s a faint echo of “Alice in Wonderland” in this story of a character travelling downwards to an exotic new world. However, there are significant differences; the place Dippy encounters is more benign and the overall impact seems less life-changing than Alice’s journey.
Younger readers usually have a safe world to read about. Only the occasional hint of a threat shows itself, along the path to the happy-ending we’ve come to expect from this genre. Fast forward to later Primary years (Alice’s cohort of readers) and many children know that weird things and odd people can sometimes happen.
‘Dippy’ may have a subtle message for its young readers: the world is worth exploring because it’s full of potentially new friends and exciting things to do. Alternatively, digging holes can take you places.
I would certainly recommend this book to carers of younger readers and their precious charges.
Jackie French AM is an Australian author of over 140 books. She was born in 1953 in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She was the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2014-15 and Senior Australian of the Year (2015). She has won over 60 awards both here and abroad. The story goes that the manuscript for her first book was difficult to read because she is dyslexic and the letter e on her typewriter wasn’t working because of the droppings of a wombat.
Bruce Whatley was born in Wales in 1954 and worked in advertising in London and Sydney. He has written and/or illustrated over 80 books, even though he didn’t learn to read until he was 10 years old. Some of these titles have been with his wife Rosie Smith including ‘Whatley’s Quest’ (1994). In 2008, he was awarded a Ph D for research on creating images with your non-dominant hand. He has done three books using his left (non-dominant) hand.
Dippy and the Dinosaurs
by Jackie French (Writer) & Bruce Whatley (Illustrator)
pp 32; $24.99