Sally Rippin is a talented artist and has many picture books to her name, including The Race for the Chinese Zodiac which has just been named by the Children’s Book Council of Australia as a Notable Picture Book for 2011. Congratulations! Sally Rippin’s talents extend to writing and Angel Creek is a delightful little read, perfect for a dreamy day down by the creek. Hopefully you won’t find an angel there. While you might think it would be delightful, it really wouldn’t.
Angel Creek by Sally Rippin

She gazed through the shivering leaves. Pale stars glittered in the darkening sky and a huge yellow moon hung on the horizon. It was Christmas Eve.

When cousins Jelly, Gino and Pik the annoying little brother find an injured angel in the creek behind their house, it’s only the start of a downward spiral into learning the care and feeding of a baby angel. Clingy, petulant, and not at all used to being locked in a tin shed with summer’s “heat pressing down,” who would have thought a baby would entail so much work!?

Looking after an angel was turning out to be nothing like looking after a bird.

The kids aren’t allowed to go down to Merri Creek, but its one of two places Jelly likes about her new house, as she waits out the holidays to start at a new highschool without any of her friends. Jelly, Gino and Pik escape a stupid Christmas party to investigate the creek. A tunnel swallows up the water as it winds under the road and Jelly and Gino dare each other to follow it into the darkness. Gino spots a pile of white feathers trapped behind a rock in the water. What they first think is a bird that might not be dead, turns out to be a very live angel, which clutches Jelly when she pulls it from the rubbish and refuses to let go.

That’s when their troubles begin. Where do you put an injured angel for safekeeping? (and Jelly isn’t even sure if it’s more human or animal)

It was hard to tell. It looked like a human, but it sure acted like an animal.

With no better ideas, the kids decide the safest place to hide an angel is a tin shed at the school, conveniently unlocked. In the dark of a summer evening the school’s an eerie place, but they just walked through the pitch black creek’s tunnel, so this was nothing.

As Jelly and Gino (with unwanted “help” from Pik) try to keep the angel fed and happy in the shed, while evading the notice of their parents and the local bullies, strange things start to happen. Firstly, Nonna is rushed to hospital that evening.

Her heart, which Jelly thought would have been about the biggest, healthiest part of her body stopped working right between the Christmas cake and coffee.

With their parents watching over Nonna at the hospital and Maureen the neighbour looking after the cousins, Christmas is cancelled for now. Jelly’s so worried about her Nonna, but elated that “their” angel needs food, water and care, acceptable only from Jelly, despite Gino’s fruitless attempts at joint care. They discover the angel is rather partial to grapes, even learning to peel them.

What was the point of having something magical happen if you couldn’t share it with with your best friend?

In the days following, Jelly and Gino bicker about whose friends will be allowed to see the angel; a huge branch falls from the old the gum tree in front of the house, denting Zio Mario’s prized Alfa Romeo; and baby Sophia comes down with measles.* Did the angel have something to do with these things?

No one had ever just stumbled across an angel in the wild. This made Jelly wonder: had their angel been on its way somewhere when it got caught up in the creek rubbish?

Jelly has awful nightmares about monstrous angels and on waking unexpected storms wreck havoc in the neighbourhood surrounding the creek.

Usually thunder didn’t scare her but this was so loud it shook their house like it was made of paper…The closeness of the storm made her skin crawl.

Jelly and Gino realise perhaps their angel needs to go home. The bullies cause more problems but Jelly makes an unexpected friend (who’s had some experience with angels) and the cancellation of Christmas isn’t indefinite, just postponed. Their presents include something quite special that no one anticipated.

Text Publishing has adult and YA lines, but Angel Creek is for upper primary children rather than teenagers. I don’t read so many children’s books, but when they are as delectably designed as Angel Creek I have to. Then I remember all those enthralling stories I must miss. There just isn’t enough time to devour them all *sigh* W.H. Chong made Angel Creek’s cover so sumptuous to my eye, and with sparkly bits! The title is gold (I’m pretty sure beaten gold leaf). The lettering is tantalizing, sometimes going over or under the line it follows, just as Jelly, Gino and Pik don’t quite follow their parents’ rules, but get away with it nonetheless. The reeds rustle beside the creek, dark in the gloaming, and brilliant angel wings light up the murky waters. Inside the covers Susan Miller adorned every chapter with angel’s wings and the chapters have names! so much more fun than just numbers. To start it all, there’s a table of contents, not often found in the land of fiction, but a nice touch, especially with the lone feather heading the page. This feather has particular significance in the story’s denouement.

Merri Creek tunnel by Proper Dave on Flickr

Please note, every time Text provides a pic of their book covers they miss out the sparkly bits. Why do they do this to me? Don’t they realise sparkly is the best part!? Perhaps not everyone shares my love for sparkly (i know some of my fellow book clubbers don’t) but surely the rest of the world isn’t like that – I live in hope.

Sally Rippin’s son made her a book trailer for her birthday. If I haven’t convinced you to read Angel Creek, Gabriel Stibio’s book trailer will.

RIP Mikaël Rohan 1996–2010