Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

Review: The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner

Synopsis:

There’s no food left in the city and what food is coming in is being sold at extortionate prices to people in the rich area. Ella and her brother Emery are starving in their part of the city, and they know there is no more food coming. The decide to go to Emery’s Mum who lives in the country.

To get there they must travel vast distances across open land. They manage this by using their dogs – Wolf and Bear, Maroochy, Oyster and Squid – as sled dogs. 

There are as many dangers beyond the city’s boundaries as there are inside it, especially for two children out alone with animals other people would eat. How will they survive the journey, and will there be food at the end? 

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Review: 

A dystopian look at the near future. The inspiration for this story comes from problems with crop diversity which already exist. Given our rapidly-changing climate and the lack of meaningful action from the world’s governments, this is a future which is all too possible. With every sentece I read, I felt more aware of this. This isn’t only fiction about made-up people. It is about us. Our world.

Bleak? Certainly, but that doesn’t mean boring. Far from it. Emery’s mother is one of the people working to reintroduce indigenous crops to the Australian land. With a diverse range of crops, we wouldn’t rely on the health of a small range of plants. If one failed, there might still be enough food to feed the population. 

I cared about Ella from the start. School hasn’t existed for a while, so she’s made it her mission to read every book available in her apartment block. She also cares deeply for her canine friends and sees their potential to aid humans. 

The other big question in the story is whether Ella’s Mum and Ella and Emery’s Dad will manage to follow their children. This takes huge twists and turns and I wanted everything to work out for their family. 

After loving How To Bee, I knew I would enjoy this, but it confirms Bren MacDibble’s ability and her strong voice in climate fiction for younger readers. We need the next generation to care about climate change like nobody else – a challenge they are rising to far better than most adults – and strong stories are a good place to start. 

An intelligent dystopia which brings another aspect of climate change to light. 

 

Thanks to Liz Scott PR and Old Barn Books for my copy of The Dog Runner. Opinions my own.

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Middle Grade Reviews · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of ‘The Dog Runner’ Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner

About The Dog Runner

The crops have failed and there isn’t enough food left to feed everybody alive. Food is at a premium, sold to the wealthiest for extortionate prices. Food parcels aren’t coming in as often as they once were. 

Ella and Emery are starving in the poorer part of the city. Emery’s Mum lives in the countryside where people are trying to reintroduce indigenous crops to the land. The children want to reach her, but to do that, they must cross vast areas of dry land. 

The only way their plan might work is with the help of their dogs. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to ask author Bren MacDibble some questions about her story. Her debut nobel, How To Bee, was a big favourite of 2018 and I was particularly impressed by how she turned serious topics into compelling fiction. 

Thanks to Bren for your time and to Liz Scott for organising this opportunity. 

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Q&A with Bren MacDibble

Food production and land management play an important part in The Dog Runner. Why did you decide to write about these themes?

I’m very interested in where our food comes from and how we treat our environment, so when I wrote a story where a couple of kids take a dog cart across Australia, I made their reason for doing it to flee a famine-ravaged city, and it seemed natural to me, to take on a common threat to our food-security, which is wheat fungus, and expand that in my famine. We seem so disconnected from our food sources these days that we don’t understand how food is produced or the threats to our food from disease, lack of landcare or climate change. Australia is in a particularly strange place where we have a dry climate but we grow European foods, and yet the Aboriginal Peoples were growing and cultivating different grains, grinding flour and baking bread 600 years before the Egyptians. There is a wealth of knowledge and grain types that have previously been completely ignored, but which could be vital to our future as the planet warms.

 

What kind of books did you read to write this story? Was there anything you learned about for this first time?

I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, (a children’s version of that came out recently), also The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage, both of these books talk about life and land use and land care before Australia was colonised. I was delighted to learn about all the methods of sustainably harvesting food: Fish nets that let the small fish through, and only killing large male kangaroos, and how the many peoples would travel to take advantage of seasonal harvests, like the protein-packed baked bogon moths.

 

The acknowledgments section mentions that you travelled as part of your research for The Dog Runner. How did this shape your work?

Yes, I received a travel grant from the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund. It was so good to visit the rail-trails and land the children travel across on their journey. Just to feel the heat and see the amazing colours of the dirt and study the plants other than grass that grow there, trying to imagine what that landscape would look like with even less vegetation. I also visited a mushroom tunnel, and a grassland regeneration project, and got to see sled dogs in action. Honestly, you think you know a little bit about a topic but when you visit people and talk to them, you learn so much more.

 

Ella and Emery travel across the land with the help of their dogs. Do you have any strong feelings about animals in children’s fiction? What is important when you write animal characters?

It’s easy to make animal characters too human, especially dogs who love to interact with humans, and one of these dogs is super smart, but I think it’s really important to show dogs being dogs. They have their needs and their limitations, they can supportive when the kids are down, or unpredictable and cause problems. Above all, the kids are ultimately responsible for the health and care of the dogs. They have to keep them safe and fed, and it’s a big responsibility in this book. Dogs are family, even when they’re naughty, and their needs can’t be ignored.

 

Ella’s Dad says that the people who survive extreme circumstances, such as a global food shortage, are the ones who learn to stand on their heads. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?

He says when the world turns upside down the first ones to walk on their heads will survive. It’s a bit of an odd saying… but then he’s a dad, and we all know with Dadisms it’s the intent behind the saying that’s important. What he means is you have to be prepared to change immediately to suit the world you find yourself in. You can’t cling to your old ways and expect life to go back to normal. Survival is ultimately about being resourceful and thinking creatively about how to solve new problems. This is why it’s important to raise creative kids in an ever-changing world. Creativity may be the most important thing we can encourage in our kids, building, exploring, getting out in nature and just playing is super creative.

 

The book ends with a note of hope and makes references to seed banks. What could readers do now to care for the planet and support diverse food sources? 

 If you can source food that is produced without use of fertilisers and pesticides, buy this organically produced food as the land, insects and surrounding waterways are less damaged by natural processes, and you will encourage growth of this organic market. Eat what is grown locally and what is in season, learn some new recipes if you have to. If you eat meat, eat less red meat. Save beef for special occasions. Plant wildflowers, let grass grow long and have a few wild places for bugs, don’t spray weeds (dig them out by hand or put salt and boiling water on them if they’re in pavers) to keep the insects and bees healthy. Limit waste, especially plastic waste, and walk, cycle or take public transport more often.

 

Author Bio:

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee – her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards downunder and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner, her second children’s novel, hits the shelves on 2nd May.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: How To Bee by Bren McDibble

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howtobee

Extract:

I don’t know what honey tastes like. Gramps knows. He says ‘sweet like honey,’ sometimes. When the real bees flew from flower to flower, they did this job. One tiny bee could do the work of twenty kid bees every day.

(How To Bee by Bren McDibble.)  birdSynopsis:

Imagine a world without bees. Children are employed to pollinate the fruit trees by hand. Peony wants to be a Bee. She wants to help provide for her grandfather and sister Mags.

Peony is taken from her home and forced to work as a domestic maid in the city. There she encounters people who have more than she does, including Esmerelda, a girl who is afraid of the outdoors.

Peony needs to get home to the countryside. Will her mother ever understand that a simple live in the country is better than a life of servitude?

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Review:

Environmental crisis, poverty and a girl who longs for a simple life. How To Bee gave me the same tingles as Skellig. It is brilliantly crafted and will stick with me long after I have finished reading.

I was instantly drawn into Peony’s world. The children on the farm take on roles which were once integral to the natural world, pollinating the plants and removing pests from the crops. Peony’s mixed definitions – Bees are children who pollinate the plants, but they used to be living things – brings to life the generation brought up in a decimated world.

This is not a dystopia about overthrowing a regime. Like all good dystopias, it explores how we can make a positive change to our world, but there is no war. No corrupt-government. The novel manages to explore some huge themes – environmental crisis, social inequality and the impact of urbanisation – without the familiar story of rebellion. Instead, there is a girl who knows her own mind and a message of small-change-big-difference.  

Peony is a great heroine. She’s hardworking and caring, but also smart-mouthed and feisty.

Esmerelda has a phobia of going outdoors and could be described as agoraphobic. I loved how this was handled. Peony bonds with Esmerelda before we learn about her phobia. I thought this was a great way of building empathy. We care about the character before her issues are raised, and as such, she is never treated as something other.

The other main story is about Peony’s mother, who wants to start a new family in the city. Peony’s relationship with her mother is a key part of the plot. Her mother’s decisions keep Peony from her own goals. Peony’s mother is vulnerable. There is never any sense of the story condemning her, and Peony’s emotions are explored with sensitivity.

Peony’s voice will stay with you long after the last chapter. This has the potential to be a future classic. Read it ASAP, preferably outdoors with the sound of bees in the background.

 

Big thanks to Liz Scott PR and Old Barn Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.