Lili Wilkinson (text) and Dustin Spence (illustrator), Hodgepodge (How to Make a Pet Monster #1), Allen & Unwin, July 2020, 200 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760877385
Hodgepodge is the first book in the How to Make a Pet Monster series, written by Lili Wilkinson, who is a highly acclaimed author of mostly YA fiction, and illustrated by Dustin Spence who has a background in animation and games.
The story begins with the main character, Artie, explaining his difficulties adapting to life with his new blended family which includes a cantankerous girl name Willow. Artie’s life takes a turn for the better when he and Willow conjure a cute monster, named Hodgepodge. Not only is Hodgepodge adorable and lovable, he also has a remarkable ability to do farts that smell like the “food” (usually smelly socks or flowers) that he just devoured, giving rise to comical situations and fascinating scientific research opportunities for Artie. Sadly, though, Hodgepodge becomes destructive and Artie and Willow realise that it isn’t tenable to keep him. A kind stranger, Wesley Crankshaw, seems to offer the best solution. But Wesley turns out to be far from kind.
I love the way Artie and Willow’s contrasting personality traits are developed, with warmth and humour. Where Artie is careful, thoughtful, precise and rule abiding, Willow is impulsive, quick thinking, optimistic and defiant, leading to disagreements and witty banter. Nonetheless, it is through compromise and by capitalising on each other’s strengths that they collaborate in rescuing Hodgepodge.
The story is light-hearted and playful, with author Lili Wilkinson conjuring bizarre and amusing scenarios and developing flawed but funny and lovable characters, in Artie, Willow and Hodgepodge. And towards the end of the book, Wilkinson has the reader engrossed in the suspense of Hodgepodge’s rescue. Spence’s playful black and white cartoon style drawings are interspersed through the text, depicting the characters with exaggerated facial expressions and cute, big eyes. The illustrations also provide context to the physical setting.
I recommend this funny and sometimes suspenseful story of imagination, adventure and family life for 6-9-year-olds. Being in bridging novel format, with only a few sentences per page, it would be a manageable read for newly independent readers.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz