I can remember buying this book from Ian Mune himself sometime in 1977. The TV programme, which this book is based on, was pretty big at my primary school. The purchase was made from a bookshop in Devonport that I remember as being called Evergreens but in fact was called Greener Grass.
I am currently reading The Mad Dog Gang meets Rotten Fred and Ratsguts to my seven-year-old and last week he was curled up tight on the bed next to me with his hands pressed to his mouth, tense with excitement, filled with trepidation. The soon-to-be-formed Mad Dog Gang were creeping up on Rotten Fred’s shack. In this time, so removed from that past, his reaction to the book has been one of excitement, of pure enthusiasm.
He is desperate to know if The Mad Dog Gang will make friends with Rotten Fred and Ratsguts but I won’t tell him.
If you look around you can find the programme on Youtube (in colour too, but, like my memory, more than a little bleached by time). It’s not without its charms, I'm sure Seamus would like to check it out, but I would be reluctant to show him. It is not a patch on this book. The book is a masterpiece. The writing is taut and exciting. From cover to cover there is hardly a word out of place. Told from the kids' perspective, there is not a trace of sentiment.
If I was asked to describe the book in one word I would have to choose ‘classic’. Seamus has already opted for ‘epic’.
Like any great read, The Mad Dog Gang meets Rotten Fred and Rats Guts is not one thing. There are not just laughs and adventures. It is also a book with a deeply serious side. In it children face death for the first time and it does not offer a tidy or easy or comforting lesson. Seamus was silent and somber in this part of the story but did not complain. This is stuff he has thought about and at an age much younger than his current seven-and-a-half. Mune knows children.
The world of The Mad Dog Gang is a world where you don’t tell adults a thing and you sort out problems yourself. This is a book where the children have agency.
In closing, here are a couple of images from the golden days when kids tv programmes featured seven-year-olds smoking cigarettes*…
Book cover photo and South Pacific promo clip from KiwiTV website