The unlikely story of using Maremma dogs to save Warrnambool’s dwindling penguin population has already been made famous on the big screen and will now be immortalised in print thanks to a new children’s book.
Chooks in Dinner Suits, written by Diane Jackson Hill and illustrated by Craig Smith, is inspired by the world-first Middle Island project that trained two Maremmas to become penguin guardians to protect the island’s shrinking population.
Jackson Hill said inspiration for the book came from an unusual source – a toilet block wall that featured a sign spruiking the success of the project.
She soon joined the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group and met volunteers who were working on it first-hand. “The story follows a waddle of little penguins who live on the tiny, rocky outcrop of Middle Island. Foxes have caused their numbers to dwindle and local chicken farmer, Swampy Marsh, thinks his dogs Max and Mimi can protect the penguins,” she said. “They have been protecting his chooks for years and after all, penguins are really just chooks in dinner suits. “But everyone laughs at Swampy’s idea, until eventually he can count the last few penguins coming to shore on one hand. Desperate, the townsfolk decide to give Swampy’s idea a chance and Max and Mimi become the penguin protectors of Middle Island.”
Jackson Hill said she hoped the work would help educate youngsters about the importance of protecting and restoring marine environments, as well as promoting the unique Middle Island project. “I wanted to help in some way and thought a picture book would be a good way to promote the project nationally,” Jackson Hill said. “Plus, what better way to show kids that creative and natural solutions can work,” she said.
Museum Victoria Publishing is releasing the book on June 1.
Jackson Hill is no stranger to children’s writing. The keen ukulele player co-authored the Uke’n Play Ukulele book and CD series. At age 60 Jackson Hill made a career change to become a full-time children’s author. Her other works include Annabel’s Dance and #HarmonyTweet, with Big Band Baby due for release next year. Craig Smith has been illustrating children’s books for decades. He has worked on books alongside authors such as John Marsden, Rachel Flynn and Emily Rodda.
Chooks in Dinner Suits will be officially launched on June 17.
The book follows on from the success of the Oddball movie.