Friday 9 January 2015

Dexter the Courageous Koala

Dexter the Courageous Koala by Jesse Blackadder (ABC Books)   
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN:  9780733331787   

Reviewed by Elaine Harris

There has been many a discussion in Buzz Words and elsewhere about POV or point of view: i.e. should a story be told from the point of view of one protagonist only or can other perspectives be introduced without confusing the reader?

At the risk of introducing a note of heterodoxy, I confess to an inclination to the latter. Different voices, or different perspectives if a story is told in the third person, have always fascinated this reader and from a very young age at that.

Not surprisingly, then, the split chapters in Jesse Blackadder’s powerful new book captured me from the outset. I almost found myself holding my breath, waiting to see how or even if the two main characters would come together.

Ashley is a headstrong, impulsive though not unsympathetic young teenager, Dexter a yearling koala still learning about the world around him. Together they rehabilitate one another, learning and growing along the way as they help to solve each other’s problems as well as their own.
Inadvertently, I found myself approaching this book as the child reader I once was and perhaps still am - revelling in having to look up new words, learn new concepts and gain general knowledge, all neatly camouflaged by a compelling, fast-paced story.

There is enough introspection or what the late John Wyndham called “Behind thinks” for the thoughtful reader. The story is moved along by the skilful use of animated, realistic dialogue while scenes are set as well as the plot advanced with the aid of one of my favourite ploys, plenty of colourful description painting vivid word pictures.

Despite the deliberately misleading opening to chapter one, this book is essentially concerned with wildlife care and rescue, leaving us with no illusions. Any wildlife carer will tell you that the job is messy, time-consuming, exhausting and often heartbreaking, especially when working with nocturnal joeys. Although you learn specifically about the rescue and rehabilitation of koalas, many of the principles apply to other species. There are strict rules to follow about feeding, sterilization of equipment, too much handling, leaf collection, observation and why dogs and wildlife don’t mix. 

There is still plenty to interest dog lovers though and a surprise satisfying ending. Jesse Blackadder presents the story from a koala’s perspective with warmth and conviction while successfully avoiding sentimentality. We learn about fears, predators, territory, feeding, climbing, illness, the vagaries of extreme weather and even aggression among members of the colony. There is a school of thought objecting to this type of anthropomorphism but it has worked as a storytelling tool for generations of both children and adults and probably always will.      

Finally, the pivotal character in Dexter the Courageous Koala is Micky, Ashley’s aunt. She is one of fiction’s true eccentrics, a major asset to the novel and deserves a book in her own right.
It is a joy to be able to recommend this book which should work equally well read aloud to a class or family or devoured alone by any child or adult who loves animals in general and wildlife in particular.

(If you’re not familiar with the mythical drop bears or Thylarctos plummetus you’re in for a treat.)  For readers aged 8-12.

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