Title: Pierre’s Not There
Author: Ursula Dubosarsky
Genre: Fantasy and Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 3rd November 2020
Synopsis: A girl who transforms into a dog, a magic puppet show with the power to change lives and a story about the mysteries of the imagination from Ursula Dubosarsky, the Australian Children’s Laureate.
Ursula Dubosarsky is the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020 – 2021
Lara had always wished she was a dog, and one day, just for a short time, she actually became one. This is how it happened.
In a mulberry brick house on the harbour that Lara explores while her mother cleans, Lara meets Pierre, a boy about her age with a beautiful antique puppet theatre. With his puppets, he tells her a story about a boy whose family has been eaten by wolves. The boy is lost. He needs to find his grandmother. Lara takes the part of a dog, but suddenly she can no longer tell where she ends and Dog begins. Or is she Wolf? Caught up in Pierre’s story, Lara has to fight to protect her identity – and her new friend. Can she help Pierre find his way home?
Pierre’s Not There is a lyrical, captivating and imaginative story that can be read on many levels.
When this came through for review, I knew it was a book I would love, and devour. Lara has gone with her Mum to an old house on the other side of the harbour in Sydney. A young boy in a red coat catches her attention, and he pulls her into his world, and a puppet show. He says he’s lost his parents, and he doesn’t know the end of the story, so will Lara help him with his play? At this point, we fall away from a narrative into a playscript, where Lara discovers she has become a dog! What now? She has to help Pierre find his grandmother – and they have grand adventures on the way. Can Lara help Pierre and protect her identity?
This book is one that I loved so much, and that is entertaining, engaging and perfect for classroom use – for drama, for English, and to use to teach many themes to younger children from the current Australian Children’s Laureate, Ursula Dubosarsky. It will teach children about imagination, identity, literacy and creative play – something that seems to be missing in these days of technology overload. It took me back to the days of dressing up and creating my own stories with my toys in the nineties, and this book is timeless – it could be set in the nineties, it could be set now. It has a sense of a late twentieth century setting about it, as it references the war, which we can imagine is World War Two.
It cements the idea that childhood should be about discovery and play and finding joy in the small things like puppets and ice cream – it would be fun to get kids together in groups to perform the play sandwiched between the two prose sections that bookend Lara’s adventure. The mystery lies in who Pierre is and what is going on. The power of Lara’s imagination has brought so much to life and shows that boredom and not having technology directly at our hands to distract us is sometimes a good thing, to let us explore the world around us in new and different ways. Voice is also important here – the play further illustrates how voice can be used to convey emotion and fear as the story moves along. The play is almost separate from the novel, yet they are both linked and best read together.
As Australian Children’s Laureate, Ursula is promoting the theme ‘Read for your Life’ across the country – albeit in a different way during COVID times. Ursula is urging all Australian kids to join their library if they can, and to go there regularly. She is also the winner of nine Premier’s Literary Awards and the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award. Ursula has been nominated for the international awards the Astrid Lindgren Award and the Hans Christian Andersen award, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pierre’s Not There will win another award. It is a special book that can be read and performed in combination, and I would love to see the play performed one day.
I loved Pierre’s Not There, and eight to twelve-year-olds will too. It is the kind of book that is timeless in a way, as it is freed of the constraints of technology, so anything can happen. Your imagination is set free and I couldn’t think of a better book for the current Children’s Laureate to have released this year.