Spoiler alert: this review excessively implies the ending.
With the drought officially broken last month it seems that this fun little book is a bit too late. That being said, maybe we should see Emily Rodda’s contribution to the shortlist as a parable for the climate as a whole – we had a big drought, Al Gore came along and made us all see that changing our light bulbs would fix everything and then the drought ended. Well, the people of Bungawitta have sort of taken the same approach.
If you want to have fun, don’t corporatise it, creativise it. On the back of a crippling drought, the people of Bungwitta decide that the way to revitalise their community is to have a festival. This isn’t any old festival with huge queues, horrible toilets and a lingering tinnitus but a Mud Sculpture Festival (why not, one of the best things that I have ever been to was the Ploughing World Championships, loads of people watched that docco on the spelling bee and, since moving to Western Vic, all anyone ever talks about is the Australian Kelpie Muster in Casterton. Well, all I ever talk about…).
The book highlights the self-satisfying, deeply-felt smugness that can be achieved by pulling together and doing something as a community. It seems that everyone in it has something to contribute to their little project (even Olympic standard cynicism) and we are a bit on the edge of our seats about whether they can pull it off.
Having everyone else leave town is a great device to distill down your list of characters to the outsiders, the weirdos, the cynics and the too-young or too old to flee. We really want these guys to succeed because we fear that they are a bit close to the edge and failure could be the last stop before a Laurence Oates style exit.
In a bold move, the town accidentally enlist the help of the ABC to promote their festival. This is just one example of the way that Rodda carefully lays little foreshadowing plot eggs for her young readers to pick up and wonder at.
Emily Rodda (not her real name) has two entries in the shortlist this year. She is also no stranger to the BotY and has apparently written four award winning books (!). I have only heard of one of them and have read even less but this is definitely less of a reflection on the books as it is on me – what can I say, I came in to this party while it was already in full swing. As it is the only Younger Reader I have so far been able to get my hands on, it is currently my front runner for the prize but I am ready to be proved wrong. Nevertheless, with double dip and home ground advantage, Rodda must be feeling pretty good about her chances.
There is certainly no harm in Bungawitta (the book, not the place) unless you don’t want your kids covered in mud. And a sunny little story like this can warm you up a little in this drab, cold autumn.