Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang by Jane Smith

‘So are you in?’ Francis demanded.
Tommy looked at his feet and shrugged. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.
‘It’s sort of stealing,’ he said.
Francis rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not stealing … it’s only borrowing.’
Martin had a brand new mountain bike and he was bragging about bringing it to school on Monday. Francis was planning to take the bike home to his own place on Monday afternoon.
Without telling Martin.
‘We’ll give it back,’ Francis went on.

Tommy Bell is facing a dilemma. If he wants to be part of Francis’ gang, he needs to do what Francis wants. But some of the things Francis wants to do make Tommy feel very uncomfortable. So far, Tommy has been able to reason his misgivings away, but this feels different. When he gets home from school, Tommy saddles up his horse, Combo. Then he puts on his hat, the one that takes him back in time. And with a dizzy, wobbly feeling, Tommy is back in the nineteenth century, and taking a swim in the lake are Frank Gardiner and a friend. Behind him, is a policeman. The policeman fills him in on what Frank and Co have been up to. But nothing could have prepared Tommy for what would happen next. Notes at the back sort the fact from fiction and a Q&A with a bushranger offers the reader a chance to learn more about individual bushrangers.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang is a Book 3 in this series for younger readers from Jane Smith and Big Sky Publishing. Each tells a fictional tale set both in the present and in the time of the goldrush. Each takes Tommy back in time where he meets up with bushrangers and others. There he finds himself caught up in their exploits and getting to know these men he only knows from stories. Slipping back in time also allows him time to think about his modern day worries. Young readers are offered a more three-dimensional picture of the times and the people of the times. Recommended for independent readers in lower- to middle-primary years.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520217

Review Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 2: The Horse Thief by Jane Smith

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good t sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and eve the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good at sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and even the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There’s a new kid at school and he’s very popular. Tommy likes him too because Francis also likes horses. Tommy has his own horse, Combo, near his house on the edge of town. Tommy is pleased to be invited to be part of Francis’s friendship group. But membership requires him to break a school rule, and there are consequences. Although he avoids trouble, Tommy is uneasy.  When Tommy is on holidays with his family, he is again transported back in time. He meets a charming bushranger, Francis Christie who seems to be able to talk himself out of most trouble. Tommy is initially drawn into by his silver tongue, but struggles to maintain his trust of the bushranger. Chapter headings are full page and titled as well as numbered. Illustrations are scattered throughout.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy’ is a new series from Big Sky Publishing. Each adventure brings history to life for young Tommy, by transporting him from life in a rural town to meet up with a bushranger. Tommy has to decide whether or not he is comfortable with the sometimes questionable behaviours and excuses he encounters. Each of the encounters also serve to help him work through dilemmas he his experiencing in his own life. Chapters are short and titles help to hint at what’s to come. Recommended for independent readers in low-mid primary.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Horse Thief, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing  2016
ISBN: 9781925520064

Meet My Book: The Littlest Bushranger, by Alison Reynolds

Another wonderful visitor. I am delighted to welcome Allison Reynolds to the blog today, here to tell us about her newest book. Welcome Alison.

1.    Give us the details – title, publisher, illustrator, release date.

Littlest Bushranger [Board book]
The Littlest Bushranger

Author: Alison Reynolds

Illustrator: Heath McKenzie

Release date: June 1 2013

The Five Mile Press

2.    Why did you write the book?

The publisher commissioned me to write a picture book about a bushranger.

Somehow, Jack and Hector’s story emerged.

3.    How long from idea to publication?

About 14 months.

4.    What was the hardest thing about writing it?

It was difficult to think of how to have a bushranger book suitable for very young children.

5.    Coolest thing about your book?

I feel very lucky to have Heath McKenzie as the illustrator. I love how he captures the essence of the words, and transforms it into something amazing.

I couldn’t wait to see how he would interpret the outlaw/monster in The Littlest Bushranger

Also, I really like how he sneaked in an illustration of Hector the dog on every page.

6.    Something you learnt through writing the book?

I realised how much I use my own childhood in my writing. My backyard was my entire world, and I loved recapturing that feeling in this book.

7.    What did you do celebrate the release?

Booked myself a holiday, which will be known as The Littlest Bushranger  holiday.

8.    And how will you promote the book?

I’m having a blog tour to celebrate The Littlest Bushranger . We’re saddling up for it on Tuesday, 11th June. I’ve managed to get some excellent prizes,

including a piece of Heath McKenzie’s fabulous artwork. I’m also having a few signings.

9.    What are you working on next?

I have a YA that wants to be revisited.

10.    Where we can find out more about you and your book?


I would love to see you there.

Thank you for inviting me onto the Aussiereviews blog, Sally!

You’re welcome Alison. It’s lovely having you here.

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch

Late in life, I’ve come to the view that everything in out lives is part of a pre-ordained pattern. Unfortunately it’s a pattern to which we’re not given a key. It contains our joys and miseries; our good actions and our crimes; our strivings and defeats. Certain links in this pattern connect the present to the pas. These form the lattice of history, both personal and public; and this is why the past refuses to be dismissed. It waits to involve us in new variations; and its dead wait for their time to reappear.

When Hugh Dixon overhears his father confiding to his mother that he is in trouble, Hugh is determined to help him. His father has a gambling debt which could be the ruin of the family, and young Hugh believes that he only person who can help them is his great-uncle Walter – a man he has never met and who his father will have nothing to do with. Hugh visits his uncle in the old family home, and a friendship develops. As it does, Hugh also learns of his family’s links to a notorious band of bushrangers in the mid nineteenth century. Later, events in Hugh’s own life have strange echoes of that earlier time.

Lost Voices is an evocative, absorbing book, with an intriguing double narrative. The book is divided into three parts, with the middle section telling the 1854 story of two escapees from Tasmania’s Port Arthur who return to their secret mountain hideout – but not before meeting a young Martin Dixon, who convinces them to let him accompany them to tell their tale. In the first and third sections of the book we follow the late teens and early twenties of Hugh Dixon, Martin’s great grandson, a hundred years later. If it were not for this father’s trouble, Hugh would not have met his great uncle and so learned the story of his grandfather.

Yet there are echoes between Hugh’s life and that of his long dead ancestor, particularly the pattern of uneasy relations between father and son. Martin heads off to live with the bushrangers knowing his father will not approve, but determined to follow a path of his choosing. Hugh too does this both in seeking out his great uncle’s help, but also in following a career in illustrating which his father has attempted to discourage him from. This exploration of the relationship between father and son is repeated in other connections in the book – including Hugh’s father and grandfather, his friend Bob’s relationship with a violent father and the bushranger Wilson’s relationship with his father.

There are other echoes and parallels – young men’s relationships with older women, the treatment of women and, importantly the concept of truly evil men. There is so much being explored that the experience may be different for individual readers, and the processing of these themes is likely to go on long after the reading finishes.

Whilst there is action and drama, this is not a fast paced book, taking time to read and to digest, but it is a satisfying, beautiful journey.

Lost Voices

Lost Voices, by Christopher Koch
Fourth Estate, 2012
ISBN 9780732294632

Available from good bookstores or online. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Burial, by Courtney Collins

If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell? Would it favour the ones who have knelt upon it, whose fingers have split turning it over with their hands? Those who, in the evening, would collapse weeping and bleeding into it as if the dirt was their mother? Or would it favour those who seek to be far, far from it, like birds screeching tearless through the sky?

In 1921 a woman runs from a cruel life but, in order to do so so, goes to measures almost unspeakable. Barely clinging to life, she flees towards the mountains she is sure will shelter her. She is just 26 year old but has already had a life time of experiences – as a circus performer, horse thief, convict and battered wife. Soon there will be a bounty on her head that will see her hunted by every man in the valley. Two of those men, though, know her well – one is her former lover, the other a policeman who has crossed paths with her almost a lifetime ago.

The Burial is a moving, often disturbing tale, inspired by the life of Australia’s last bushranger, Jessie Hickman, though not claiming to be a true story. The narrator is, surprisingly, a child who dies in the opening scenes of the story, which allows an omniscience as well as an unconventional perspective. The story itself is at times dark but at others optimistic, allowing the reader to journey along with the main character, Jessie.

Just as the main character journeys through much of the book, The Burial is a wild, but ultimately satisfying, ride for the reader.

The Burial

The Burial, by Courtney Collins
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311875

Available from good bookstores or online.

Captain Blunderbolt, by Carol Ann Martin

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school…

We shouldn’t have wagged school, I know.
Not when our lessons were costing Mother threepence a week. But the whingeing started the minute the door of our slab hut fell off behind us. (Father was not very good at building huts.)
‘I don’t like it! I’m not going!’ That was Maudie. She had started school only four days ago. Already she’d decided that it wasn’t for her.
Tully was just plain cranky. He was missing Father, who had probably got himself lost again. Getting lost was something Father was good at.

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school they witness a failed coach raid by the famous Captain Blunderbolt. The occupants of the coach are initially frightened, but on witnessing Blunderbolt’s incompetence are moved sufficiently to offer donations. Meanwhile, the school bully is up to his usual tricks. Now he’s spreading a rumour that Alberta’s Father isn’t off trying to find gold, but is actually Blunderbolt. Each page includes colour illustrations often with headers and footers to break up the text.

The Mates series from Omnibus delivers short chapter books for newly independent readers. Each includes an iconic Australian story. All include a delightful dose of Aussie humour. Captain Blunderbolt introduces a new generation to our colonial history in a light-handed and informative manner. History can be dry and dull, but in the Mates format, it is anything but. Each offering opens the way for discussion about life in Australia, with all its joys and challenges. In Captain Blunderbolt the reader discovers that life was tough for settler families, with fathers needing to go away from home to find work. It also opens the discussion about the rich and the not-so-rich, and the inherent inequalities that can come with it. A particularly welcome aspect is the reference to Mother’s practical capabilities. As with all the offerings in the Mates series, readers will come for the humour, stay for the story and come away with more understanding of the rich Australian culture we all share. Recommended for newly emergent readers.

Captain Blunderbolt (Mates)

Captain Blunderbolt , Carol Ann Martin & Loren Morris
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918238

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, by Mark Greenwood

I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justified another, but the public, judging a case like mine, should remember that the darkest life may have a bright side…

As a child, Ned Kelly saved another boy from drowning in a flooded creek, and was awarded a green sash for his heroism. But it was not this act of bravery for which Ned was to become famous – but for his career as an outlaw, begun just a few short years later.

Whilst there are have been dozens of books, stories, songs and poems about Ned Kelly’s life, Ned Kelly and the Green Sash offers a new insight into his childhood and into his character. The first person narrative presents Ned’s perspective of events, whilst the use of newspaper formats in the middle of the book offers the contrast of the opinions of the time. The gouache illustrations, by Frane Lessac, also give readers an insight into Kelly’s life, with the rich colours of the bush contrasting with the more subdued tones of the prison cell and the sepia tones of the newspaper spreads.

Author Mark Greenwood encourages readers to form their own opinions of Kelly’s actions, and the first person narrative, complemented with the news extracts and Ned’s own writing, as well as back of book notes, gives plenty of food for thought.

A wonderful offering for children of all ages.

Ned Kelly and the Green Sash

Ned Kelly and the Green Sash, by Mark Greenwood & Frane Lessac
Walker Books Australia, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through these links supports Aussiereviews.

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads, by John Barwick

Black Caesar, an enormous African, is credited with being Australia’s first bushranger. His bushranging life began because he didn’t have enough to eat, but didn’t last long when the Governor advertised a rum reward for his capture, alive or dead. From Caesar to Jessie Hickman, bushrangers live exciting lives. But their lives were usually quite short. They lived in an era where shooting a bushranger was rewarded and bumps on skulls of criminals were studied for clues to their behaviour.

Book 23 in the ‘It’s True!’ series from Allen and Unwin collects stories of bushrangers from Australian history and folklore. Barwick looks at famous and less widely-known bushrangers and their exploits. He leaves the reader to make their own judgements about whether they were worthy of sympathy or condemnation, or a mixture of both. There are details of their deeds and their deaths to entice the reluctant reader, and to stir the appetite of the reader wanting more. There are less ‘fact boxes’ than in other titles of this series. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations show his customary wit and humour. Recommended for middle- upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads by John Barwick, illustrated by Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin 2006
isbn: 1741142989

Ned Kelly's Last Days, by Alex C. Castles and Jennifer Castles

When Ned Kelly was captured after the Glenrowan siege in 1880, the colony of Victoria was united in its belief that he must be executed. Whatever modern Australians may feel, at the time of his capture, Ned was considered an Outlaw. He had been involved in violent thefts, the killing of policemen, the taking of hostages and an attempt to derail a train. He was both feared and hated, and few believed that he should not hang.

In the weeks that followed his capture, however, a questionable chain of events occurred. Whilst Ned was kept isolated in gaol, there were political manoeuvrings, blatant cover ups and high-level corruption being used to ensure he would hang. When that hanging took place, few Victorians realised that the legality of that execution was questionable, to say the least.

Ned Kelly’s Last Days is more than just another book about Ned Kelly. Whilst giving plenty of insight into Kelly and those around him in his last days, its real focus is on exposing the questionable judicial processes of the time and the way those in power were able to manoeuvre the process to achieve the desired outcome. Author Alex C. Castles (who, sadly, passed away before the book was published) was not focussed on whether or not Ned was guilty, but on the way ‘justice’ was served.

This is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in Australian history or law.

Ned Kelly’s Last Days, by Alex C. Castles & Jennifer Castles
Allen & Unwin, 2005