‘Dodos have no enemies, everyone knows that.’
Beatrice and Bertie, dodos in love, watch the ship approach with no thought of danger.
But the newly arrived giant sea-monkeys soon become their deadly enemy. And the rats they bring with them are worse still: an evil, cunning clan who threaten the dodos long after the sailors have left.
Is this the end of dodos forever? Or can they pull off a daring escape?
This is one of the first books I read all by myself. My year one teacher, Mrs. Heath, kept a personal stash of decent children’s books in a cupboard and after taking a week or so to ascertain that I was reading beyond the required level of ‘Biff, Chip and Kipper‘ she let me and a couple of others plunder from this cupboard as much as we liked during school hours – with the one stipulation that we couldn’t take the books home. So rereading this at almost 25 the first thing that strikes me is how much shorter it seems to be than when I was 5. It is still, however, a very fun little story about animals that it’s hard not to love. Seriously, who doesn’t love dodos?
‘Oh, Beatrice!’ cried Bertie. ‘You are the most beautiful dodo in the whole wide world.’
The whole wide world was, for the dodos (though they did not know this), a smallish island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There were no dodos anywhere else on earth.
The date (though they did not know this) was AD 1650, and before very long (and, luckily, they did not know this either) there would be no dodos anywhere at all on earth. The dodo would be extinct.
Or that’s what everybody has always thought.
So opens a very funny, charming little story about the extinction of an entire species.
Beatrice and Bertie, a young dodo couple are among the first to witness the arrival of the first ship carrying ‘sea-monkeys’ to their previously uncharted and uninhabited island. With no natural predators, the dodo are a naturally trusting (and comically stupid) bird, so it is to everyone’s horror when the sea-monkeys start massacring them for food.
Even when the sea-monkeys depart, leaving behind Sir Frances Drake, a friendly green parrot, the danger is not over yet. For the island has become infested with vicious rats from the ship and Bertie and Beatrice must be constantly vigilant to protect their newly laid egg. And when the rats begin to overun the island, Bertie, Beatrice and a small group of friends and relatives, led by Sir Frances Drake, put to sea in an abandoned boat to found a new dodo paradise.
Of course it’s not exactly an accurate portrayal of how the dodos were wiped out – it took longer than the book implies, humans rarely ate dodo, and, as well as rats, deforestation and the introduction of domestic dogs, cats and pigs (now believed the most important factor) meant sudden competition for limited food. But it’s a nicely compressed kiddies version of the basic idea – and it is certainly the interpretation of the extinction that most people are familiar with (or at least that I was as a child interested in natural history in the 90s).
But what the book is, is a story that, despite not being historically accurate, does have a lot of educational value as an introduction to the concept of human-aided extinction and the environmental impact of invasive species, while also being a very funny book with loveable characters an exciting and fantastical plot and a silly but happy ending.
As one of Dick King-Smith’s less known books, I’m not sure if this story is even still in print but I do highly recommend it as a book for young children. At 79 pages it’s not intimidatingly long, and split into 12 chapters and a postscript it’s easy to digest in small chunks. The language is simple and easy for an early reader without the content of the story being patronising or babyish, it invites questions and discussion about natural history and extinction, and its got funny parts that both parents and kids can appreciate (I know I didn’t pick up on the Hamlet reference when I read it as a kid). Easily a four star read for me.