Gus Dog Goes to Work written by Rachel Flynn and illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press) HB RRP $24.99
Reviewed by Daniela Andrews
Sheep dog, Gus, does much the same thing every day. He has his breakfast, hops into his owner’s ute and goes to work with him. One day, though, he wakes to an empty bowl. What’s more, his owner, Tom, seems to have left home without him! What follows is a warm and witty tale of Gus Dog’s mischievous trek around town to locate Tom. And perhaps to find some breakfast.
Tom has taught Gus Dog several colloquial expressions that come in handy on his adventures: ‘gidday, getup, getdown, come’ere, getoutovit, gohome and goodboy’. (There is some fantastic alliteration with the letter ‘G’ in this book!) Gus Dog goes to school, rounds up people’s chickens and sheep and forages through some garbage bins. He receives tirades of abuse from people around town and is never really sure what he has done wrong, but he certainly recognises some of their words. He even learns a new word, mongrel, after it’s said to him a couple of times. Somewhat confused, he good-naturedly trots off elsewhere each time he is berated.
Eventually, Tom finds him and Gus Dog gets to hear a far more comforting expression: ‘goodboy’. The author cleverly contrasts the use of the phrase ‘gohome’, also, subtly showing how it can be interpreted positively or negatively in different situations.
Popular author-illustrator team, Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, have published several books together and have a complementary style. Smith’s illustrations – a combination of pencil and Corel Painter – are superb, as always. The rustic colours throughout the book perfectly reflect the dustiness of rural Australia. Gus Dog has a comical appearance, to match the humour in the text, and a soft expression in his eyes that makes him very endearing. Whenever Gus is being spoken to, the language appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations. Gus Dog’s journey is beautifully reflected in a wider view in the endpapers, where sepia-toned pictures offer an additional picture revealing Tom’s path. (Smith’s illustrations in the story itself also reveal the reason why Tom disappeared.)
This simple story reflects on the power of language, while observing country life, pets, working dogs and animal behaviour. At around 800 words, it’s a great length for lower primary school students aged 5 years and up.