Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This is an interesting book by Andrew Marlton (writing as First Dog on the Moon) aimed at younger teens on the all-important topic of climate change. He uses a humorous approach to a serious subject with great effect. It certainly engaged me as a reader and made me reflect on my contributions to this problem.
The book can be divided into two basic parts. First, our heroes fight a garbage bag baddie who is harming turtles, then they turn to tackling climate change. Along the way we find out about the main characters, as well as numerous minor ones. Sometimes there are so many of the latter the story gets lost a little. Punctuating these adventures are ‘Science’ pages, which give a diverse range and quality of information on ungulates, microbeads, fossil fuels, etc. The occasional joke on these pages muddies the waters somewhat. For example, the sea turtle facts (p 35) are followed by references to ray gun fights and underpants catapaults.
The heroes of the title, who choose to biff the villains, are a trio of diversity. There’s Letitia, a wombat genius who invents wonderful contraptions and Binky, a female human whose parents were both monotremes (echidna and platypus). Rounding out the group is Worried Norman, who was bitten by a radioactive croissant and transformed into Pastry Person, with appropriate super powers to boot. Their super powers are counterbalanced with human foibles such as bossiness, anxiety and frustration.
Most pages are dominated by drawings of some of the numerous characters with relatively little dialogue or text to read. It’s somewhat similar to “The Treehouse” series by Andy Griffiths, with the visual elements conveying much of the narrative. There are plenty of jokes to be discovered in the smaller details, such as the ocean currents alongside the other ‘currants’ (p 9) or the potato-headed Minister of the Environment, which reminded me of Peter Dutton. In some ways the child-like simplicity of the character drawings (often only a front-on outline) helps to achieve a child friendly tone to the book.
One of the features of the book is the sophisticated language used throughout. There would be adults aplenty who would look blankly at ‘insectivorous mammals’ (p 145), ‘gauche gewgaws’ (28), ‘egress aperture’ (31) and ‘phylogenetics’ (145) to name a few. Then there’s the clever phrases that dot the plot; villain biffing outfits, irked ibis incursion, the compost heap of treachery and an astoundingly alliterative explanation, among many others.
Moving up a notch in creativity are the made-up gems that litter the pages such as the clingwrapifier, an explainatorium, the enviroscoundrel and a nemesispotter (a villain finding device). These compound word blends reminded me of Roald Dahl and his fascinating creations and they achieve much the same effect, a smile of approval. Can’t you just picture a garbagenormous collection of plastic floating in the ocean? There’s also a clever clue to the super baddie’s identity with the reference to a Swiss dish featuring potatoes.
But a word of caution here perhaps. Is the language too sophisticated for 12-year-olds? Well, depends on the 12-year-old, I hear you say. Probably for most 10-14-year-olds (the target audience), this text would be a stretch. Given that the strong visual elements are probably meant to attract the weaker reader, the advanced language does put up a comprehension barrier for some.
One of the central themes of the book are the actions needed to combat adults’ inactions about climate change. Our heroes try an online petition (with limited success), an awareness-raising campaign (ditto), political lobbying (less than satisfactory), a rally (at the end, everyone just goes home), inventing a device to lower the carbon in the atmosphere (not quite fully operational yet) and a school strike (partly effective?). The frustration of not seeing governments and businesses taking more action is apparent. As one character puts it, “I don’t know whether to be scared or sad or angry or something else” (p 180).
There’s an interesting list of reasons for lack of action on climate change (p 138). Too busy, don’t believe, don’t care, too poor or making too much money are some reasons given and it invites a moment of self-reflection. The sixty-four-million-dollar question is: will it change our behaviour?
I would certainly recommend this book for teenagers of all ages, just have a dictionary handy.
Andrew Marlton was born in Bega, NSW and grew up in Canberra. He’s mainly known as a cartoonist of the First Dog in the Moon strip and won the 2012 Walkley Award for Best Political Cartoon. He’s also illustrated books, including Jackie French’s, ‘The Wombat and the Grand Poohjam’ (2009). He describes his own political view as being ‘anarcho-marsupialist’.
The Carbon-Neutral Adventures of the Indefatigable EnviroTeens
by First Dog on the Moon
Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9 781760 526122
304 pp; $16.99