also known as: The Magic Pudding: being the adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and his friends Bill Barnacle & Sam Sawnoff
Norman Lindsay, author and illustrator
Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918
reprinted by Mineola, NY: Dover, 2006
137 pp; 4 chapters (or ‘slices’)
Ages: 5 and up, though vocabulary is a little difficult (chapter book)
Interests: animals, Australia, magic, food, fighting
A classic Australian children’s book, beloved down under though little-known elsewhere. It was apparently written by Lindsay to settle a bet: a friend told him that children like to read stories about fairies and he replied that they preferred food and fighting. This hilarious story has plenty of both, as three friends (Koala, Sailor and Penguin) attempt to defend their magic pudding (one that never gets smaller no matter how much you eat) from nefarious pudding thieves Possum and Wombat. The Pudding, known as Albert, also has legs and a mind of it’s own, which complicates matters further. This book is a rollicking tale of the open road, about enjoying good food and songs with friends over a campfire, and not being afraid to poke anyone in the nose who tries to steal your grub.
A terrifically funny story if you don’t mind all the fisticuffs, and after all, nobody gets seriously hurt. The proceedings are frequently interrupted by poems and songs, such as Bill Barnacle’s song of infinite verses, ‘Ballad of the Salt Junk Sarah’, or the three friends’ ‘Puddin’-Owner’s Anthem’. The love of doggerel reminded me of Winnie-the-Pooh, the carefree comradely life (and lack of female characters) reminded me of The Wind in the Willows, and the marvellously funny illustrations made me think of Walt Kelly’s Pogo comics (also no slouch in the doggerel department). But nothing perhaps is more uniquely Australian than these blustery characters parading about the landscape looking to knock down their enemies.
As mentioned above, the language is a little verbose, as these characters do love to talk. The high-falutin’ vocabulary is challenging and invigorating at the same time, and make the book a pleasure to read at any age. Five-year-olds should get a kick out of it, though it may be slow going if you’re explaining every unknown word along the way.
This book was turned into an animated film in 2006 with the voices of John Cleese, Sam Neill, Hugo Weaving, and Geoffrey Rush – Cleese as the pudding – but the script was apparently too far removed from the original story for its fans, and it was not a success box office-wise, critics-wise, or otherwise-wise.
In conclusion: The hilarious adventures of Bunyip Bluegum and the friends he makes on the road. Many bare-knuckle scuffles along the way, though always in defense of the much-sought-after Pudding known as Albert. A chapter book comprised of four rather long ‘slices’, but with lots of funny illustrations. Content suitable for five and up, although vocabulary is challenging.