Craig Silvey (text) and Sara Acton (illustrator), Runt, Allen & Unwin, October 2022, 352 pp., RRP $22.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781761067846
When Runt landed on my desk for review my first thought was, ’oh dear, that’s a very long book for younger readers’. By the end of the book, I was completely charmed. Reading Runt had a very nostalgic feel, reminiscent of reading The BFG or Matilda by acclaimed author, Roald Dahl. This feeling was aided by Sara Acton’s illustrations which have a very Quentin Blake-esque style.
Runt tells the story of a little stray dog, a unique girl named Annie, Annie’s family and their town of Upson Downs. Upson Downs like many Australian country towns is suffering because of drought. Unfortunately, their drought was caused by one man acquiring property and damming a valuable water source. Annie’s parents, Bryan and Susie, are struggling to save the family farm and one night Annie overhears a conversation about the overdraft on the overdraft and knows that the situation is dire. Her first solution attempt is to try and make it rain using one of her grandfather’s inventions. Her second attempt is to enter Runt into an agility competition. There’s one small problem – Runt will only perform tricks and follow Annie’s orders when no one is watching. With a little help from her daredevil brother, Max, Annie and Runt are able to perform unobserved and win! With this win new opportunities open up and Runt, Annie and Annie’s family embark on the adventure of a life time.
From the very first reference to the town’s name the reader knows what to expect – lots of quirky and humorous names for the characters and places. Silvey doesn’t disappoint with two villains named Earl Robert-Barren and Fergus Fink, the presenters of the Canine Agility show who are named Basil Peppercorn and Camilla Crowne-Jewel and many others. These little humorous jabs do a wonderful job of distracting the reader from the many messages included in the text. Without this sleight of hand Runt would stray worryingly into the territory of a book that is boring but good for you because of all the life lessons you might learn. Instead the reader steps nimbly around, over and through the lessons that being unique isn’t a bad thing, that kids can’t (and shouldn’t be required) to fix adult problems, that trying to fill an empty heart or life by amassing material goods is pointless, that finding and following your life’s passion is important, that believing your pedigree or breeding entitles you to certain life outcomes is presumptuous at best and evil at worst and so on.
This reader was utterly charmed by the story of Runt and Annie. There were many moments I found myself with a silly grin on my face or wishing to share a particularly delightful sentence with a fellow reader.
I would highly recommend Runt to younger readers in mid- to late-primary school. I would strongly encourage parents and guardians to read this book aloud with their children. Firstly, for the pure joy of sharing a wonderful story and secondly, to see what conversations it might spark.
I truly hope there’s a sequel or a prequel in the works.
Reviewed by Anne Varnes