The Boy and the Toy, Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo, Viking, $24.95

IT was only a matter of time before prolific, award-winning Melbourne writer Sonya Hartnett got around to writing a picture book. This one (her second picture book, Come Down, Cat was published this year) remains one of my all time favourites and as I suspected, rereading it now for the first time in more than a year, the story of a lonely boy and the ‘toy’ that becomes his ‘friend’, holds up beautifully.

The boy’s father, an eccentric explorer and inventor, creates a small mechanical creature to keep his son company while he travels the world. Dad sails off and initially the boy and the toy hit it off – playing hide and seek, sliding down the bannister, even searching for buried treasure, but over time things begin to change.

The toy becomes possessive and eventually the boy must come up with a plan to distract his increasingly erratic play-mate long enough to send a letter to his father…

I won’t spoil the end because it’s worth discovering it for yourselves. 


While the premise is a familiar one (think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Pinocchio or more recently, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick) Sonya Hartnett’s version is a gentle take on what it means to discover a true friendship and, perhaps even more importantly, what can happen when you rely on your own ingenuity.

The illustrations, lots of sea blues, grainy creams and lighthouse reds, are striking and compliment the story perfectly. Lucia Masciullo really captures the boy’s confusion and sadness as he finally realises that his new companion will never be the friend he wants and so desperately needs.


Readers four to six.


Some of Sonya Hartnett’s fiction for older readers, especially The Midnight Zoo, Viking, $24.95 and her latest book The Children King, Penguin, $24.95.