A funny and much-loved CBCA-winning picture book set in an outback community
Dion Beasley spent many years in Tennant Creek and is well known across the Territory as the artist behind the much loved T-shirt brand, Cheeky Dogs. Dion's formal art career started in 2006 when the first Cheeky Dogs T- shirt line was launched. Since then, his reputation as an accomplished visual artist has grown from strength to strength. Dion's talents are particularly remarkable given he has muscular dystrophy and is profoundly deaf. He now lives on the Sunshine Coast.
Johanna lives in Darwin with her partner, daughter and a backyard full of green tree frogs. Her writing career got off to a bumpy start when she was so busy composing a story in her head that she accidentally drove into the back of a taxi. It was while driving on a bumpy stretch of road outside Alice Springs that the beginnings of the Cheeky Dog books, took shape. Working with Dion has changed the way Johanna sees the world and tells stories.
In the Northern Territory is the remote indigenous community of Canteen Creek, a tiny settlement that seems to have more dogs than people. Grandpa feeds them so they like his house best and even when Mum tries to shoo them away, he tells her to let them stay because they keep the cheeky animals away. For, as the weather works through its annual cycle of big rains, the sweaty season, the cool winds, the drying grass and the dry soaks a gang of goats, a drove of donkeys, a herd of horses, a bunch of buffaloes, even a caravan of camels invade the little town one after the other making life awkward. Nothing seems to deter them – not Dad’s flapping arms; not Uncle’s stamping foot; not Aunty’s big stick; not even sister’s thong and certainly not the horde of cheeky dogs – who just lie there despite Grandpa’s beliefs! Until the big rains come again…
This is an unusual book that has a fascinating back story (http://toomanycheekydogs.com.au/about/the-process/). The most striking aspect is the illustrations which look like they have been done by someone the age of the intended audience, and that in itself will appeal because young children love that their style is validated in a “real book”. So often they dismiss their efforts because they don’t look like “book pictures” or the “real thing” so to have illustrations that they themselves could have done will draw them into the story. A bit of research though indicates that the artist, Dion Beasley, was born with multiple disabilities – profoundly deaf and with muscular dystrophy – and the whole book is testament to celebrating the diversity of ability that people have and the value that this brings to all our lives. It would be perfect as the centrepiece for the International Day of People with a Disability on December 3 (http://www.idpwd.com.au/) and Don’t Dis My Ability (http://www.dontdismyability.com.au/).
But illustrations do not necessarily a story make, and the text too, is fascinating as it cycles through the seasons in a land that we all live in but most are so unfamiliar with. The northern climate is so different from the four distinct seasons that we southerners experience and the changes on the landscape are subtle but profound so as well as being introduced to the feral animals of the north, the reader is also taken on a journey that is in sharp contrast to what most would be familiar with. Right there is the kernel of an investigation that could stretch across year levels and even countries.
In the bio blurb, Johanna Bell says that working with Dion has changed the way she sees the world and tells stories. In the hands of an informed, imaginative teacher this book could have a similar impact on our students. Perfect for Australia: Story Country.
Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, NSW