The Unforgettable What’s His Name written by Paul Jennings and illustrated by Craig Smith (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Daniela Andrews
Imagine a boy so terrified of being noticed, that he has the chameleon-like ability to blend in with his surroundings. Imagine his fear escalating so greatly, that he can change how he looks entirely. Now, imagine that you have Paul Jennings’ imagination … and send that boy on a two-day series of madcap adventures.
When our narrator, ‘What’s His Name’, finds himself running from thirty, angry, tough-looking bikies, his fear generates a physiological response that allows him to camouflage. Throughout the story, the boy’s pursuers constantly change and he constantly tries to evade them. For every chase, the reader is treated to an interactive ‘look-and-find’ double-paged colour spread by the talented Craig Smith (who teamed up with Jennings for The Cabbage Patch Fib series). Jennings cleverly connects these drawings to the story using language to create smooth segues. For example:
They started to laugh … They fell about wetting themselves. What? What? What? What did they see?
At that point, the reader turns the page and searches for the boy in the picture. The illustrations are cleverly drawn, in Smith’s award-winning, recognisable style. Readers will enjoy the challenge of spotting the boy in the pictures and can use the clues in the text to help them. Also appealing to the age group (7–12 years) is the large font, and the numerous black-and-white sketches complementing the story throughout. (Almost every double page features a picture.)
It’s a highly amusing story that is lots of fun to read. The zany tale includes a couple of new friends called Fearless and Banana Boy. There’s an altercation with the leader of a pack of escaped monkeys, The Big Pee. There’s a charming girl called Gertag. And a huntsman spider quite possibly saves the day. But, in amidst the craziness, it really is a heartwarming story of a lonely boy who just wants his dad back. Jennings has written it for children who shy away from the spotlight, stating that the story:
‘… tells the quiet people that their lives can be exciting and successful without having to ceaselessly promote themselves.’
Oh, and we do learn the boy’s name eventually … and it’s much nicer than Gertag!