Help Around the House
198pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
Eleven-year-old Ludo is on his way to live in Canberra because his father has just been elected as the new Independent federal representative for Culliton, but beginning with being seated in business class he is overwhelmed by the luxury and ostentation that come as part of a federal Member’s salary and entitlements.
A boy who lives (almost) strictly according to Scout Law and his deceased mother’s mandate of helping others, Ludo vows to turn things around and get the politicians to understand and act on how much their generous remuneration would help others who are not so fortunate, particularly the homeless. But it is not as easy as it seems and while his father is off on a fundraising trip, Ludo, with his new Scout friend Henry, soon finds himself embroiled in the seedier, selfish side of Canberra’s political life, hampered by Mike, his father’s aide who can see no further than votes, the next election and power, but helped by Mrs B, the housekeeper who knows more than a regular housekeeper might. Ludo is determined to ensure that fairness and justice prevail, even though that finds him out late at night, bending some of the rules instilled in him by his mother with whom he has regular ‘conversations’ and who Gleitzman says is modelled on his own mother who died while he was writing the book. She is certainly a strong guiding presence for Ludo in a place where moral principles seem to have departed, and while the ideals learned from her may get shaken at times, nevertheless, Ludo’s core beliefs about who he is and what he should do are unshaken.
This is the latest release from the current Australian Children’s Laureate (his next is the finale to the Once series) and like all his books since his first, The Other Facts of Life written in 1987, this is a cracker. Over 30 years of writing for children. children whose own children will be getting ready to share his work with their children, and Gleitzman still has the rare gift of combining credible, likeable characters in almost-plausible situations with a message softened with humour. Ludo who sees life through the idealistic eyes of a typical 11-year-old who has been brought up in kindness and selflessness and who has absorbed the tenets of Scout Law into his psyche learns some tough lessons about the reality of life, particularly how personal perceptions shape responses, while his father also has to reassess his future as the truth about political life becomes apparent. Given the recent events in federal parliament, this is particularly relevant as questions are asked about who among our young people would want to become a politician.
Having spent 30 years living in Canberra, this book has a personal connection and even though some of the places are fictitious, many of the events in the story are not and Gleitzman’s exposure of the behind-the-scenes machinations and motivations was unsurprising to this somewhat-jaded senior citizen. But to the young reader, perhaps meeting Gleitzman for the first time, it may be disappointing that adults are so self-centred but the ending is uplifting and will reaffirm their belief in the basic goodness and good intentions of most adults. A page-turner!