Spinning Tales – Cricket inspired Young Fiction

I realise it’s brass-monkey weather already and for many a young sportsperson, rugby jerseys are in preference to baggy greens. However, the warming image of red leather cracking against willow against a burnished summer sky is one I am in dire need of right now. Therefore, here are a few of some recent favourite cricket inspired reviews. I use the term favourite with reserve for if not for this selection of picture books and novels, I might still not know my googlies from my dot balls.

Picture Books

Knockabout CricketKnockabout Cricket by Neridah McMullin Illustrated by Ainsley Walters

Until last year, I had little idea of the exact history of Australian cricket and was unaware that one of our first International cricket stars was an unassuming bloke called Unaarramin, otherwise known as Johnny from Mullagh Station in WA.

Knockabout Cricket is a fictional portrayal about Johnny’s appearance onto the 1860’s cricketing landscape. Through the eyes of a pastoral station’s son, James, readers are introduced to a tall Aboriginal boy whose natural aptitude, ball skills and ability to ‘read’ the ball is nothing short of spectacular. A team of indigenous players is soon formed and admired by all who watch their daring and athletic play.

Johnny MullaghThe subsequent matches played between the Aboriginal 11 and the Melbourne Cricket Club become the catalyst for what is known today as the Boxing Day Test and eventually, the first tour of England by an Australian cricket side in 1886.

McMullin’s narrative is complemented by informative text neatly incorporated into each page of Walters’ illustrations. The overall effect is alluring and maintains interest but perhaps the most fascinating addition for me was the handy field position drawing and photograph of the Aboriginal cricketers alongside the Melbourne Cricket Ground Pavilion in 1867.

A worthy introduction to a sport legend for early primary readers.

One Day Hill Publishers February 2015

Boomerang and BatBoomerang and Bat by Mark Greenwood Illustrated by Terry Denton

This long awaited picture book release does not disappoint. This time the story of the First Real Eleven is told through the eyes of Johnny Mullagh himself thereby evoking a slightly more personal feel. Where before, we knew the names of the indigenous team thanks to a photograph, in Boomerang and Bat, Greenwood involves each of the shearers and station hands by name from the start.  Within pages, we are familiar with Cuzens’ barefoot bowling; Dick-a-Dick’s heroic parrying displays, and Johnny’s exceptional batting prowess.

Under the tutelage and determination of captain-coach, Charles Lawrence, the team eventually makes it to the MCG. However, Lawrence has more far-reaching plans for his team and so covertly smuggles them aboard The Parramatta Clipper bound for England thus initiating the first international tour for an Australian cricket side.

Johnny’s team went on to delight and excite crowds at Lords, whilst proudly donning caps with the emblem of a boomerang and bat. They earned standing ovations and considerable admiration until the demands of touring and occasional discrimination became too strenuous, killing one teammate and eventually sending the others back to Australia. Despite their amazing sporting achievements abroad, there was little fanfare to welcome the Australian 11 home. Johnny continued to play the game he loved with amazing adroitness often scoring a hundred runs, however it would be another ten years before another Australian cricket side would leave the country again to compete. For this reason alone, Johnny and his teammates are Australia’s first true international cricket stars.

Boomerang and Bat illos spreadGreenwood’s balanced narrative is both touching and colourful conveying fact with soul. Denton’s illustrations capture the humour and atmosphere of not only the pastoral settlements and rugged proving grounds of our players but also the refined serenity of the playing fields of the home of cricket.

An awesome historic picture book to share with pre-schoolers and above.

Allen & Unwin April 2016

Meet Don BradmanMeet…Don Bradman by Coral Vass Illustrated by Brad Howe

Being a non-sporty, bookish type of kid who gained much of her Australian contemporary history knowledge from the TV mini-series of the 80s, I had but a peripheral knowledge of last century’s cricketing legend, Don Bradman. Thankfully Random House’s Meet..series is around to fill in some of my sporting history gaps and educate new generations about one of our national heroes.

Vass’s narrative opens with Don as a small boy, completely engrossed with the game of cricket. He practises daily, studies the form of players constantly and one day, in spite of his smallish stature, takes up the bat. Instead of a meteoric rise to cricketing stardom, life pitched a few dot balls of its own and Don had to work and wait his way to his dreams like the rest of us. Thankfully, he never declared them over. His spectacular batting ability was soon signed up by the St George team in Sydney allowing to him compete in the national Sheffield Shield competition for NSW. He debuted by scoring a century. Not bad for ‘the Boy from Bowral’.

Meet Don Bradman illos spreadWith the help of Howe’s cartoonesque illustrations reminiscent of 30s and 40s comic strips, readers follow Bradman through his career as he sets new records, scores new highs and helps Australia win and retain the coveted Ashes (1934 and 1936). Even the controversial Bodyline tactic devised by the English Cricket team in the 1932-1933 Ashes series was not enough to curb the brilliance of one of Australia’s most impressive sportsmen to date.

Captivating end pages and a succinct timeline pay further homage to ‘our Don Bradman’ and ensure another part of our cricketing heritage is not lost to new generations.

Random House Children April 2016

Mid-Grade Novels

Lucky BreakGlen Maxwell Lucky Break by Patrick Loughlin Illustrated by James Hart

If modern T20 cricket is more your thing, cast your beau peeps on this exciting series by Penguin Random House. The first book of this cricket series endorsed by T20 Player of the Year, Glen Maxwell, hit the stands in 2014. Since then Academy All-Stars, World Domination and State Showdown have bowled into bookstores.

Highly recommended for any kid who has a passion for team sports, cricket whites or even just a thirst for exciting dual gender inspired adventure, the Glen Maxwell series penned by sporting enthusiast, Patrick Loughlin rings with solid spotting voice, tween humour and plenty of fast paced action. They are perfect reads for those needing an excuse to read something that thrills rather than bores.

Glen MaxwellI do not know cricket, do not watch cricket, nor even profess to love cricket. However, I thoroughly enjoyed these books thanks to the energetic storylines, bolstering words of encouragement from a real-life sporting icon and (thank goodness) a comprehensive glossary of cricketing terms that means this summer those tedious hours spent in front of the tellie watching seagulls scatter across the pitch will suddenly become much more meaningful.

Random House Children’s Books December 2014 – November 2015

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

 

 

 

Picture Books to Celebrate the ANZAC Centenary

In just a couple of days we commemorate the legacy of the brave soldiers and the tragic events of World War 1 that occurred one hundred years ago. A beautiful selection of ANZAC books for children have been reviewed by Dimity here, but here’s a few more that certainly captured my heart with their touching themes of heroism, love and dedication.  

9781921720628Once a Shepherd, Glenda Millard (author), Phil Lesnie (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

Gorgeous in its lyrical prose. Devastatingly provocative. Stunning imagery. ‘Once a Shepherd’ is a war story of love and loss, sure to break its readers’ hearts.
It tells of a young shepherd, living amongst a backdrop of emerald green beauty. “Once Tom’s world was all at peace.” He marries his sweetheart, and all the world seems right. Until he is called to war and he bids farewell to his wife and unborn child. A stranger veteran calls upon Tom’s home once the war had ended, only to share the shattering news of his heroic fall with a now grieving widow. Of the hand-stitched coat she once darned, now a new toy lamb is mended for Tom Shepherd’s baby boy. And the world is at peace once again.
‘Once a Shepherd’, with its carefully crafted verse and exquisite watercolour images of greens and browns, is a powerful, moving tale of the heartbreaking reality of war and the inherent hope for peace.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.  

9781921977718Midnight: The story of a light horse, Mark Greenwood (author), Frané Lessac (illus.), Walker Books, 2014.

A foal born at midnight; black as coal, eyes glimmering in the moonlight. She is Midnight, the Australian Light Horse trained by Lieutenant Guy Haydon and gracious in her charge in the last great cavalry.
The first port of call for the soldiers is four months in the trenches at Gallipoli without their horses. Reuniting once again in Cairo, the relationship is further bonded as the pair endure the harsh conditions of the heat, scarce water supply and flying shrapnel. But still, soldier and mare commit to their duties, and to one another. In a devasting final battalion (Beersheba, August 1917), riders tumble and horses fall. Guy and Midnight are both struck; a heartbreaking yet poignant moment as the pair share their last breath side by side.
The succinctness of the text reads almost poetically, and the continual references to the affectionate bond between Guy and his beloved Midnight make this war story more of a tender account of their time on the battlefield. The gouache illustrations by Frané Lessac compliment Greenwood’s evocative words and capture the starkness of each war scene.
With notes referencing background information on the Light Horse and the details of Beersheba, ‘Midnight’ makes for a terrific resource for studying the war, as well being as a heartrending tale of love and dedication.    

9781742833477Anzac Biscuits, Phil Cummings (author), Owen Swan (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2013.

This book is probably my favourite of the Anzac stories. ‘Anzac Biscuits’ poses a lovely contrast between a child’s warm and safe home, and her father battling the cold and dangerous conditions out in the trenches.
Rachel and her mother spend time together baking Anzac biscuits. As pots and pans bang and crash to the floor, the soldier lays low as shots bang around him. As Rachel sprinkles oats like snowflakes, the soldier turns his back to the bitter cold. The little girl loves the smell of burning red gum in her stove, but the soldier will never forget the choking gun smoke drifting across the fields. Despite the treachery that the soldier has faced, we are given a heartwarming ending we can cherish; the soldier – Rachel’s father – loved the biscuits made just for him.
An endearing story of affection, commitment and sacrifice, with equally warm and gentle illustrations, ‘Anzac Biscuits’ is a beautiful way to introduce the topic of wartime to young children. They will also find little clues in the pictures upon revisiting the book, which make for wonderful discussions about what life was like for both the soldiers and their families at home (and the significance of anzac biscuits).  
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2014 Awards.
 
resized_9781743317235_224_297_FitSquareI Was Only Nineteen, John Schumann (text), Craig Smith (illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2014.

The words versing the iconic song about the Vietnam War, ‘I Was Only Nineteen’ tells of the devasting loss, sacrifice and emotional impact an elderly man is reliving of his time as a teenager at war.
We travel with this veteran from the moment he set sail, to inhabiting a firey, orange scrub, battling for hours and weeks amongst bullets and grenades and watching mates hit by the blasts. No-one told him about the mud, blood, tears, rashes and chills that would haunt him until he was old.
These memories of the war, through these unforgettable words, have been beautifully illustrated by Craig Smith, rendering warmth and respecting the spirit of our soldiers – the fallen and the survivors. I love the clever connection between the past recount and the present with a touch of army green evident in each scene showing the veteran and his grandson.
‘I Was Only Nineteen’ is a poignant rendition of a groundbreaking song by John Schumann, with great historical significance and plenty of scope for wartime study.
Prized Notable Picture Book of the Year in the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2015 Awards.

LEST WE FORGET

Review – Aussie Day Reads

With only a few more sleeps till another day of flag flying and fly swatting, it’s time to dig out the meat pies, ice the lamingtons and chill the beers. Australia Day means different things to different Aussies but the sense of camaraderie is an underlying similarity in us all.

Midnight There are dozens of Australian based books to cheer about this week, but these two, whilst equally at home on ANZAC reading lists, deserve mention now because of their strong patriotic appeal.

The horses didnt' come home Midnight, The Story of a Light Horse by picture book duo, Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac and The Horses Didn’t Come Home by faction YA writer, Pamela Rushby, both tell the tale of the Australian Light Horse regiments that took part in ‘one of the last great cavalry charges in history’.

Each of these books deals with the campaign in the Sinai desert in a way that young readers will resonate with even though the story is over 90 years old.

Midnight is based on the true accounts of Lieutenant Guy Haydon and his jet black mare, Midnight. It begins with Midnight’s birth by the riverside at Bloomfield Station in the Hunter Valley, to the mare, Moonlight. All is cool and dark and yielding as reflected in the soft prose and passive illustrations.

Midnight enjoys a close bond with Guy as the two of them work the cattle in their high country home. But it’s the season of unrest, and overseas the first of the Great Wars intensifies. Guy and Midnight heed the call and ‘ride to join the Light Horse’ along with thousands of others.

Frane LessacThey enter a strange new world, hot, dry and aggressive; the deserts of the Middle East so beautifully rendered by Lessac’s gouache painted illustrations, and set course for a seemingly do-or-die finale at the ancient town of Beersheba. The 4th and 12th Regiments of the Australian Light Horse are rallied in a last desperate attempt to smash Turkish lines fiercely guarding the precious wells of Beersheba. Success seems unlikely; 800 riders against three thousand well-entrenched soldiers, but miraculously, after the order to charge is given, Beersheba is taken and the Turkish line of defence is broken, thus changing the history of WWI in the Sinai Desert forever.

Light Horse Cavalry charge Frane Lessac's Midnight

Mark GreenwoodI enjoyed Greenwood’s sparse yet expressive text. We are given just enough information to allow us to feel the full awful force of battle and share the heart wrenching bond between horse and rider. Young readers should not be frightened or disturbed by all the action-orientated facts and words however, because they are never delivered brutally or aimlessly.

The depiction of Australia’s historic war past has been visited by Greenwood and Lessac before with titles including Simpson and His Donkey, for example. Lessac’s humble yet honest, full page illustrations work well when coupled with the stark realisms of WWI history. I found the illustrations of the closing pages of Midnight particularly endearing. Although steeped in sadness, they transport us gently home to a place of starlit skies and moonlight.

Pam Rushby Pamela Rushby’s The Horses Didn’t Come Home treats this same slice of our past with equal sensitivity and respect. I was in tears by the end of the prologue and completely entranced by the tale of Harry and his campaign overseas, this time with a horse named, Bunty.

Bunty is another Australia Waler, hailing from the rugged Australian bush who actually belongs to Harry’s sister, Laura. Their story is told in alternating points of view through the use of letters home from Harry to his family, Laura and interestingly, letters from Bunty (courtesy of Harry for his sister).

You may know the history behind the poignant story. We all know the amazing outcome. The horses won the day. But Rushby tells it in such an absorbing way that the sting of the sun, the smell of horse sweat, the buzz of the flies and the tension of the parching patrols keeps you tethered to the desert long after the battle is over and the book is done. It is nothing short of superlative.

I especially enjoyed Rushby’s author notes at the end, sharing her discovery of Beersheba and highlighting the background to the story. Older aged primary school readers will find this an easily digestible, intriguing and deeply stirring read which in all likelihood will stimulate their appetite to explore our bold past further.

Both books highly recommended as classic Aussie reads.

Midnight, The story of a light horse Walker Books Australia February 2014. Available now here! Suitable for primary school aged.

The Horses Didn’t Come Home Angus & Robertson, Harper Collins Publishers Australia March 2012. Suitable for older primary aged readers and up.

Park of the Australian Solider in Beersheba monument
Park of the Australian Solider monument
Beersheba

 

 

 

Review: The Greatest Liar on Earth

From tramp to world explorer extraordinaire, with adventurous tales to boggle the mind and cause the eyes to pop wide like saucers? Is it possible? Who was this man? Swiss-born footman, butler and jack-of-all-trades Henri Louis Grin – or world traveller Louis de Rougemont? Or both?

When an impoverished Henri began studying the diaries and tales of some of the world’s greatest explorers and travellers at the British Museum, an entire world formed in his imagination. Soon after, he began writing illustrated tales – The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont – for Wide World magazine, and soon became a sensation, attracting the attention of both the enraptured and the sceptical.

Claiming to have lived with Aborigines in the outback for 30 years, to have travelled to New Guinea in search of pearls and gold, to have seen monsters arise from the deepest oceans, flying wombats and fish falling from the sky, this formidable man even claimed to have the knack for riding sea turtles and wrestling crocodiles.

But was it all an elaborate hoax – or did he indeed pay witness to these stunning events?

Author Mark Greenwood explores the life of Henri Louis Grin with a gentle humour but moreover an innate sense of curiosity – a bit like the man himself. At the end of the book, he poses questions to the reader, allowing them to form their own opinion on truth v reality. I really enjoyed Greenwood’s use of sophisticated language and evocative wording, that not only help illustrate the complexity of Grin’s world, but stretch the reader.

Frané Lessac’s gorgeous, folksy illustrations similarly open Grin’s world to the reader and take them on a fantastical ride where the border between fact and fiction begin to blur. This combination of word and illustration by an award winning husband and wife team makes for a book that draws you in as effectively as the highfalutin tales of this masterful Swiss storyteller, who both delighted and appalled a rapt world audience.

“Truth is stranger than fiction but De Rougemont is stranger than both.” – The Wide World Magazine, June 1899

A curious, enriching and entertaining picture book for older readers.

The Greatest Liar on Earth is published by Walker Books Australia.

Truth is stranger than fiction
But De Rougemont is stranger than both

The Wide World Magazine, June 1899, No. 14

FRIDAY BOOK FEATURE – NED KELLY AND THE GREEN SASH

Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac travelled thousands of kilometres to research their latest book, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash

I caught up with them at Dromkeen National Centre for Picture Book Art, in Victoria recently and chatted with them about the book’s amazing journey.

Mark admits to having a long-held fascination with Ned Kelly, culminating in him purchasing a replica armour which has held pride of place in their house for the last four years.


But Mark says his interest in the famous bushranger was heightened when there was an article in a Broome newspaper about Ned Kelly’s missing skull.

The story of the green sash has been mentioned in passing in a number of books about the notorious bushranger, but has not had quite the same focus as in Mark and Frané’s Ned Kelly and the Green Sash.

The story goes that when he was a young boy, Ned Kelly rescued a classmate from a flooded river. The grateful boy’s parents awarded Ned the green hero’s sash.

Clearly, Mark and Frané share a deep fascination for Ned Kelly. The story of the green sash was brought to Mark’s attention in Ned Kelly, The Authentic Illustrated History by K McMenomy.

For Mark, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash started with a lot of questions. Where did Ned Kelly hide his green sash? Where was it now? These questions took Mark and Frané from Western Australia to the Benalla Pioneer Costume Museum in Victoria where Mark was able to look upon the actual green sash for the first time.

Mark was able to get copies of Ned Kelly’s letters, and he says that having real documents really brings the story to life.

After finding the green sash, Mark says his next major dilemma was “How are we going to balance the story and show that Ned Kelly was a criminal. The Green Sash was such a symbol of his duality – of someone who was both a hero and a villain.”

Equally as fascinating as the story of Ned Kelly is the way that Mark and Frané work together on a project.

Mark says that he writes with Frané in mind. He doesn’t mind taking words out if that will make the story work better with Franés illustrations. But they  agree that the input works both ways, and Frané says she uses a lot of Mark’s research in creating pictures for the story.

Both Mark and Frané love the research process. Mark says, “It’s all about finding the story and walking in that person’s shoes – filling up your senses with detail from that era and time.”

Whether you feel fascination or fear when it comes to Ned Kelly, you can’t help but appreciate the meticulous research and the passion behind the story of Ned Kelly and the Green Sash – out now from Walker Books Australia and UK.

I was totally engrossed from start to finish.

You can view the book trailer of  Ned Kelly and the Green Sash at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8WzjijYfpo

OTHER BOOK NEWS

Alex Rider competition closes TODAY! So get your entries in to

NEWS FROM FORD STREET PUBLISHING

Jenny Mounfield interviewed at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com/

Chrissie Michaels interviewed at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com/ and part three: http://tinyurl.com/2bubaqe

 

Hazel Edwards interviewed on Australian Women Online: http://tinyurl.com/34wxty3

George Ivanoff interview at: http://paulazone.blogdrive.com