Fil and Harry by Jenny Blackford. Illus. by Kristin Devine

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There is something nice about reading books by Australian authors published by relatively new Australian publishing houses.

Fil and Harry is written by Jenny Blackford of Newcastle, illustrated by Kristin Devine of regional NSW and published by Christmas Press in Armidale. Jenny Blackford is winner of the 2020 Davitt Award for Best Children's Crime Novel, Kristine Devine is winner of the 2019 New England Illustration prize and Christmas Press (which is also part of United Publishers of Armidale, with fellow publisher Little Pink Dog Books) has as its mission, a desire to support a wonderful book community. In this endeavour they have been assisted by the Australian Government and Australian Council for the Arts. Obviously United Publishers of Armidale are extremely discerning about what they publish.

And so... we have the sweet and gently humorous story for younger readers- Fil and Harry. It's short. There is a little fantasy in it. Harry is a talking cat. Fil is the central character. She is negotiating her way through the complexities of home and school life. These familiar struggles will resonate with young readers.  At home she has an older teenager brother, her hapless, well-meaning father, her "try hard" stepmother and her grandmother. They are all trying to make life work. At school she has made a seriously bad choice in friends and she is hurt. Fil is such a likeable character and Harry the cat looks out for her.

The third person narration is light and breezy. Humour laces the storyline.  We feel for Fil; we worry about her problems. We think we know where she is going wrong with her friendship choices. We love the way her family rally around her. There is a tangle in the story which any young child would recognise. Harry the magical cat has a solution and the ending is very satisfying. The pencil sketches scattered throughout the story are soft and comforting. Stars and cat paw prints accompany the text. 

This is a delightful little book.  As a school librarian I will be looking out for more from Jenny Blackford and Christmas Press.  Little stories like Fil and Harry are lovely for our children to read themselves or have read aloud in the school library, classroom or of course by family.

Themes: Friendship, Family, Talking cats.

Wendy Jeffrey