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

 

 

 

YABBA 2012

The YABBAs have been announced! The winners have been hailed for their brilliance and popularity. And I’m going to tell you all about it.

There are lots of awards around in children’s publishing, but the YABBAs are special. The Young Australian Best Book Awards are entirely nominated and voted on by young people. These awards are not about grown-ups deciding on the worthwhile books that kids should be reading. These awards are about what kids are actually reading and enjoying.

I was lucky enough to be a guest at this year’s awards ceremony, along with lots of other authors and illustrators, including Carole Wilkinson, Gabrielle Wang, Corinne Fenton, Andy Griffiths, Karen Tayleur, Sue Bursztynski, Colin Thompson, Sarah Davis, Felice Arena and Oliver Phommavanh, to name a few.

Seeing the winners announced and the awards presented was great. But what was even better was witnessing the unbridled enthusiasm of the kids in the audience. They were excited about books. They were excited about reading. And that is AWESOME!

But who won? I hear you ask. And so, without further ado, the nominees and winners…

Picture Story Books…

WINNER: Fearless In Love – Colin Thompson / Sarah Davis

Fiction for Younger Readers…

WINNER: Alice Miranda At School – Jacqueline Harvey

Fiction for Older Readers…

WINNER: 13 Storey Treehouse – Andy Griffith / Terry Denton

Fiction for Year 7-9…

WINNER: Phoenix Files: Arrival – Chris Morphew

Congratulations to all the 2012 winners!

Now it’s on to 2013. Schools and students can get involved with the nominating process and voting in next years awards by checking out the YABBA website. The site also includes lots of cool activities and info, including reviews, puzzles and author/illustrator profiles.

Catch ya later,  George

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Review – The 13-Storey Treehouse

Now, I ask you this. Who would NOT want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse? Or a treehouse at all, for that matter. And most particularly, who wouldn’t want to live in a thirteen-storey treehouse with a see-through swimming pool? An underground laboratory? A flying machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth?

No one, that’s who. And to top it all off (as if you could want more) – you’d get to live with Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton and their whackadoodle lifestyle, where cats fly, gorillas scale your exterior walls and sea monkeys turn into great hulking monsters (that may or may not have first made Terry fall in love with them).

This is a kooky-good book that was tremendous fun to read. I loved not only the shenanigans this clever pair got up to, but I loved taking a glimpse into the lives and working processes of two very dedicated kid-lit professionals, who clearly take their work very seriously. And making kids laugh and stretching their imaginations wide – well, that’s very serious business indeed.

Coupled with funny, scratchy illustrations that will engage even younger readers, The 13-Storey Treehouse is another triumph in the get-kids-reading junior fiction world. That is, I’m sure, until The 26-Storey Treehouse comes out this September.

Watch this space.

The 13-Storey Treehouse is published by Pan Macmillan.

CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: Jack Heath

I love the lack of pretentiousness in YA books. When you write for adults, no-one pays attention unless you’re addressing issues like sex, racism, mental illness, drug use and so on. When writing for teens, the only requirement is that you entertain, as much as humanly possible. This gives me the freedom to fill a book with explosions and car chases and gadgetry without worrying that it won’t be taken seriously. It won’t, and it’s not supposed to be – that’s very liberating.

Both as a kid and as an adult, I love the work of Catherine Jinks, Emily Rodda, and the incomparable duo of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, who give me the giggles in person and on the page. It’s not very grown-up of me to list my favourite short story as “Pinky Ponky the Donkey”, but I don’t much care what everyone else thinks counts as literature.

As a child I used to read a lot of novelisations – sometimes because Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me watch the screen versions until the Office of Film and Literature Classification said I could, but mostly just because the special effects were better in my head. I must have read every Doctor Who book, several Terminators and Red Dwarfs, and, of course, the Indiana Jones trilogy. I devoured Alien and all its sequels once a year for six years.

Third Transmission by Jack Heath

Six of Hearts is sealed inside a torpedo, blasting his way at 300 kilometres an hour towards a warship. His mission: to steal canisters containing a weaponised strain of the SARS virus. If he fails, ChaoSonic will use the virus to wipe out an uprising that is tearing the City apart.

And that is the least of Six’s problems. Vanish is still on the loose. So is Retuni Lerke. And a scientist has designed a new weapon – one more dangerous than anything Six has ever seen before. One that could destroy him, the Deck, and anyone else who dares to oppose ChaoSonic.

Six has to find the weapon and eliminate the threat it poses because ChaoSonic can’t always control their creations.

He is living proof of that.