The Red Fungus has devastated grain crops and grasses world-wide. In Australia, drought has added to the disaster and now, with food running out, society has broken down and it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Ella and her older half-brother Emery are faced with a world that’s scary and dangerous, so they stay holed up in their city apartment with their three big dogs. When their father – gone to find Ella’s mum – doesn’t return, Emery and Ella are faced with a decision. Stay, as the city becomes more and more violent and dangerous, or leave to travel up-country to Emery’s mother?
They go. Across the dry, barren and desolate landscape, Ella and Emery travel with their three ‘doggos’ on a dry-land sled. It’s a dangerous journey – a bit like The Road for little ones – and McDibble keeps the pace break-neck and the suspense ratcheting. The pair have to evade desperate gangs who think nothing of killing for food and supplies; they have to find sustenance for themselves and the three doggos; they have to navigate an unforgiving land. When Emery is injured, Ella must find all the courage and ingenuity she can muster. This is a kid’s book, and so it doesn’t end in death and disaster (whew!); they reach Emery’s mum and the whole family is reunited.
And they get to eat a decent meal at last. I’ve long been the butt of (affectionate!) jokes in my family for my obsession with food. There was the camping trip where we were almost at starvation point because there was only one can of baked beans and some noodles when we packed up to go home. There’s my chirpy “What will we have for dinner?” at breakfast time. And my stern disapproval of the world-building in The Lord of the Rings because – well, where are the market gardens of Rohan?
Emery’s mum farms mushrooms in caves and grows pumpkins. Emery is of Aboriginal and Afghan heritage and – in a nod to the work of Bruce Pascoe and others in educating Australians about the Aboriginal agricultural practices – Emery’s Ba (grandfather) experimented with growing, harvesting and storing native grass seeds. The Dog Runners ends on a hopeful note.
McDibble’s earlier book, How To Bee, also had a serious message about the effect of global environmental degradation on food security (what’s going to happen to the world’s food supply without bees to pollinate plants?). It was a great read as well.