A Different Land

A Different Land
Paul Jennings, illustrated by Geoff Kelly
Old Barn Books

We’ve had A Different Dog and A Different Boy, and now it’s a land that’s different. The land in question is in a rainforest location, travelled to by Christopher, his mum and his friend Anton who are fleeing from their war torn home 12,000 miles away.

Of the person they’re expecting to meet them there is no sign, so in the meantime, Christopher sets about rescuing a dog from the path of the train they’ve just left.

Eventually a rather battered vehicle appears from the forest and out steps the driver. Seemingly he’s expecting someone other than the party he finds waiting but then he discovers that the boy’s mother is named Pat. Not quite the ‘bloke’ he’d anticipated but it was she who’d applied for and been given the job at his Last Coach hotel and general store, and he’s far from happy.

Then he learns that Christopher has rescued his dog and his ill temper dissipates somewhat. Crayfish (as he informs them is his name) grants a short reprieve to the three, telling Pat she can help out at the pub for a week, until the next train out is due.

Crayfish is a rough-looking, enigmatic character and his establishment appears anything but inviting especially to Christopher. Why he wonders did Crayfish say his wife Peggy was dead when he overhears talk of him going off to visit her early every Wednesday morning.

So the following Wednesday he decides to confront him and discover the truth.

What ensues is a dangerous battle against the elements and a desperate rescue bid …

Paul Jennings does it again. Totally enthralling and full of nail-biting tension, this twisting-turning short book with its themes of displacement, love, loss, grief and integrating into a new community, and steamy, tropical illustrations by Geoff Kelly, will likely be devoured in a single sitting, leaving your head spinning and your heart in your mouth.

A Different Boy

A Different Boy
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

Following on from the wonderful A Very Different Dog, Paul Jennings has written a second very different, equally gripping book.

Orphan Anton has recently arrived as a resident at Wolfdog Hall, a terrible place where no-one even knows his first name, lessons are miserable affairs, the teachers thoroughly unpleasant.
Pretty soon, the boy makes a break for it, and surprisingly, despite threats to the contrary, he isn’t followed. He is however without money or friends.

Hearing the horn sounding from a ship down the hill in the harbour the boy makes his way to the pier. The ocean liner has yet to leave and Anton watches people making their way up the gangplank, bound for a new land of promise, peace and plenty.

One of the passengers is Max, a rather strange-looking boy with a face resembling a porcelain doll and wearing a jumper absolutely covered with ribbons, labels and badges looking like, so Anton thinks, nothing less than a noticeboard. He’s also wearing a black arm band.
A peculiar exchange takes place between the boys after which at Max’s instigation, they exchange name labels and Max leads him aboard. Unlike Anton, the lad is accompanied by his mother.

Thus begins Anton’s new life as a stowaway.

During the voyage he gradually comes to know more about the rather strange seeming Max who has identical bald-headed boy puppets, one wearing a green jumper, the other a red one.

In tandem readers discover through text printed in italics that he once had a brother, Christopher, who died in a fire while Max was rescued.

Later in the main text Max’s mother explains that this was a recent event, and that now her son needs someone to look out for him in his twin brother’s stead. She also posits the idea that when they arrive in the ‘New Land’ Anton could live with them. A deal is made.

Shortly after, disaster strikes, there’s a rescue, a startling revelation concerning the identity of who had really died in the fire, another startling revelation, about Anton this time. And, there’s a satisfying ending; what more can you ask? Oh yes, there are occasional slightly spooky line drawings too.

Like all books by Paul Jennings, this one (based very loosely on the author’s experience of emigrating to Australia from England as a boy) draws you in immediately and grips you throughout . Like the author’s previous titles too, it’s superbly written without a wasted word. Having said that, it’s also quite unlike any of his previous titles.

A Different Dog

A Different Dog
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

When I taught children in KS2, Paul Jennings was one of our favourite authors. His short stories from Unreal, Uncanny, Unbelievable etc. and with younger audiences,The Cabbage Patch Fib, were always much requested both as class read alouds and for individual consumption.. I’ve not kept up with his output of late but was instantly drawn into this one and read it in a single sitting.
It’s a novella, quite unlike any Jennings’ I’ve read before and for such a short book, it spans a great many themes including poverty, loss, cruelty, bullying, trauma and its effects, determination and resilience.

The boy narrator is something of a loner; he doesn’t speak and is tormented by other children. The story opens with him dressing himself in his mother’s pink parka, adding a black bin bag on top and setting out to take part in a charity fun run, determined to win for his mother’s sake especially.

En route to the venue in treacherous weather, the boy sees a road accident and although he is unable to save the driver of the van, he is determined to see the dog to safety.

His subsequent journey, both physical and mental is gruelling yet ultimately uplifting.

Compelling and tersely written – every word counts –this is a book to hold you in its thrall even after you’ve put it aside. Geoff Kelly’s black and white illustrations are atmospheric and powerful.

This is a book that deserves to be shared and discussed widely in school, at home, by teachers and other educators, those who work as speech-language pathologists, (I was interested to learn that the author has worked in this field) and in particular, it offers rich potential for a ‘Community of Enquiry’ type discussion.

I’ve signed the charter