Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
There is so much to enjoy in Pawcasso, a graphic novel written and illustrated by Remy Lai, born in Indonesia but now living in Brisbane. She has become a successful, much loved author and it all began at the Somerset Storyfest on the Gold Coast.
Jo is a girl who lives with her older sister, two younger brothers and her mother while her father works overseas for long periods. She is sad and lonely with no friends. One day, in the holidays, she sits staring out the window of her home and noticed a dog go by carrying a basket. It is unaccompanied. Their story starts here….
Jo, intrigued, follows the dog. It is a clever shopper, visiting various shops and even enters the library. There, she stumbles on a small art group run by Cathy, the librarian. Jo is invited to join a five-week art class and to bring the dog which is now known as Pawcasso. The children want him to pose as a model, even though a dog doesn’t stay motionless for long, as a life model must do.
All have assumed Jo to own Pawcasso and the deception grows. Jo becomes anxious and worried that her lie will be exposed as life becomes more complex. Everyone loves the dog except one very grumpy neighbour, Mr. ICCC (I’ll Complain to the City Council).
Jo, attached to Pawcasso, but with a niggling conscience, follows him to discover his real home.
The book is nicely paced as a junior thriller with the dog’s fate and Jo’s life becoming increasingly involved. The reader is inclined to hope that there will be a happy outcome, but much happens before the community comes together for the art exhibition at the end of the five weeks.
Neither is it limited to the story of a lonely girl finding friends both canine and human. Remy Lai introduces important issues within its plot. The concept of love and hate is simply but strikingly discussed by the children. It is obvious that Jo is no longer alone – she is recognised and feels part of the community and makes friends in the library. She has come to realise that a chihuahua-sized lie can easily expand to be Great Dane size and life becomes increasingly fraught.
Readers learn of Picasso himself and Marcel Duchamp. Cubism is mentioned as being observation of a subject from several angles. Art techniques such as water colour, acrylic and oils are touched upon by basic distinguishing facts (the difficulty of washing them out for one!)
The value of the petition is recognised when the children want to stop dogs being impounded for being off leash. Over 7,000 signatures are collected! It leads to their being made aware that such a motion is not straightforward, therefore it is necessary to listen to varying, and conflicting, opinions.
Jo’s story does end well, with an ice cream party at the library and a statue to Pawcasso in the park. There is even the grumpy Mr ICCC smiling….
The novel is very attractive with bright simple illustrations, funny at times. The 236 pages are thick but would have immense appeal to young readers, especially the reluctant. One of the features I particularly liked was the ice cream recipe at the end followed by the drawings acknowledging the thanks to friends.
It is no wonder Remy is sought after by publishers. Pawcasso ensures her success will continue to grow, with this wonderfully enjoyable novel, for 8–12-year-olds.
by Remy Lai
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 17605 2677 1