Jess Black (text) and Sara Acton (illustrator), Mr Walker Braves the Night, Puffin Books, August 2019, 96pp., RRP $14.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780143793106
Jess Black (text) and Sara Acton (illustrator), Mr Walker and the Perfect Mess, Puffin Books, August 2019, 96pp., RRP $14.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780143793113
Mr Walker and the Perfect Mess and Mr Walker Braves the Night are two of five Mr Walker titles, which chronicle the adventures of Mr Walker, a labrador who lives at Melbourne’s Park Hyatt hotel. It is based on a real-life dog Mr Walker, who achieved some milestones being trained as a Guide Dog but is more suited to ‘ambassador’ work.
Mr Walker and the Perfect Mess is a Christmas story about preparations at the hotel and buying the perfect gift for a departing employee. It establishes Mr Walker as an active and intelligent character (odd though that may sound), and it really feels like you are seeing the world from his perspective. Who hasn’t wondered what their pets are thinking? A scene where Mr Walker catches up with old friends (human and canine) at a hotel event is particularly engaging.
Mr Walker Braves the Night is a thrilling Halloween adventure where energetic protagonists Sophie, Amanda and Mr Walker entertain their visiting relatives with a hotel tour and some Halloween activities. I appreciate that some parents may pass over this title due to anti-Halloween sentiment, but I would note that Sophie and Amanda don’t actually go trick-or-treating (although they want to!), and do Halloween themed activities instead—so Mr Walker Braves the Night may actually be a useful title to dissuade children from trick-or-treating and redirect them to pumpkin-carving!
The short chapters make the Mr Walker titles a great early chapter book or read-aloud class book. If reading aloud, they provide a great opening to talking about the work Guide Dogs Victoria do to assist people living with low vision or blindness, and the role of the dogs they train. More information about Guide Dogs Victoria is provided at the end of each book. Both titles are well-paced and the black and white illustrations are wonderful. Children will manage a chapter before bed or during silent reading.
Both titles suffer slightly from lack of context—a few paragraphs in the first chapters explaining Mr Walker’s Guide Dog upbringing and a bit more about why the Reeves’ live at the Park Hyatt would have made for smoother reading. Some editorial choices affect the book’s flow—for example, Sophie and Amanda’s parents are referred to as Henry and Mrs Reeves (Mr Reeves and Mrs Reeves, or Henry and Rebecca would have been easier to follow) —so I would recommend starting with the first book of the series Mr Walker: A Hotel Dog with a Nose for Adventure.
Mr Walker Braves the Night and Mr Walker and the Perfect Mess are strong additions to the Mr Walker series, and royalties are donated to Guide Dogs Victoria. They are sure to be popular titles (particularly for young dog lovers!), and the quality hardcover and heavy pages will withstand some backpack battering. Recommended 8+.
Reviewed by Jessica Dowling