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

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood

Just then, Jack discovered a sodden parcel wedged between the plane’s ribs.
He tore off the string binding and red wax seals. Inside was a bloated leather wallet, bursting with small packages wrapped in tissue. He emptied the contents of one into his calloused hands. What he saw stole his breath away …

As a plane prepares to ferry Dutch refugees out of Java to escape war-torn Java, the captain is passed a valuable package to carry to safety. But the plane is attacked, and crash-lands, the passage temporarily forgotten in the quest for survival. When Jack Palmer, a sailor and beachcomber, comes across the abandoned wreck of the plane he can’t help but be curious about what he might find on board. What he does find is beyond anything he could imagine.

Diamond Jack, the first title in the new History Mysteries series by Mark Greenwood, is a junior novel exploring the events surrounding the crash of a Dakota aircraft and subsequent disappearance of a parcel of diamond on board. Using the known facts and people involved, interwoven with a fictionalised version of what might have happen, the story provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. Young readers will be drawn into the mystery as they also view and learn about a chapter of Australian war history.

With historical photographs, maps and notes including a timeline, this is history children can connect with.

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood
Penguin Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143309260

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen

Jim loved station life at Four Wells.
He loved hunting rabbits, exploring with his dog Bluey and chasing goannas. But sometimes he was lonely. If only his friend Frank didn’t live so far away.

Jim and his parents all love station life, but sometimes they feel lonely, cut off from the rest of the world. So when a pedal radio comes, and they can send messages by morse code, and even hear voices from the main base. Jim longs to have a turn on the radio, but Dad says he needs to wait until he’s older. However, when Dad has an accident and Mum is away from the house, it is Jim who uses the radio to call for help. He is a hero.

Radio Rescue! tells the tale of the introduction of pedal radios to outback communities, showing its importance by using a fictional family and the difference it makes to their life, coupled with back of book notes which explain how and why the pedal radio was developed, as well as the use of the radio to summon the Flying Doctors, one its life-saving services.

Illustrations, by master craftsman Robert Ingpen, are divine. Each spread includes text on one page, with the opposite including a grey scale, highly detailed picture of one of the characters on the outside of a fold out spread, opening to reveal a coloured illustratios including rich landscape and actios scenes. Ingpen’s style is perfect for a historical book such as this and adults and children alike will admire his work, and the detail included.

Perfect for both classroom use and private reading, Radio Rescue! is a collector’s delight too.

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen
National Library of Australia Press, 2016
ISBN 9780642278784

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

Sian: A New Australian by D. Luckett

I was always unlucky. Unlucky thirteenth child, I was. Unlucky for my mam. She died. I didn’t know anything about it but there’s bad luck for you. I always knew it, even when I was little.

There had to be someone to take up the bad luck going around, didn’t there? My da was a lucky man, they said. A pitface fell on him, and he never walked straight again but that was lucky because five other men died in that accident and he got a pension from the union. As well as that, the company gave him free rent on the house in Caradog Street for the rest of his life. Everyone said it was very good of the company to do that. They didn’t have to, you know.

I was always unlucky. Unlucky thirteenth child, I was. Unlucky for my mam. She died. I didn’t know anything about it but there’s bad luck for you. I always knew it, even when I was little.

There had to be someone to take up the bad luck going around, didn’t there? My da was a lucky man, they said. A pitface fell on him, and he never walked straight again but that was lucky because five other men died in that accident and he got a pension from the union. As well as that, the company gave him free rent on the house in Caradog Street for the rest of his life. Everyone said it was very good of the company to do that. They didn’t have to, you know.

Sian is the youngest of a large Welsh family living in a small mining town where everyone is involved in coal mining in some way. The only ‘mother’ she’s known is her older sister Olive. Sian, her dad and all her siblings crowd into a small house and do what they can to survive. She is always in trouble and always riling Dad up, no matter how she tries not to. She even manages to interrupt as Ellis is asking Dad for permission to marry Olive. After a beating, Olive makes a decision that will change not only her life, but that of Sian too. The story shifts to Australia as Olive, Ellis and Sian travel by ship to seek a better life. Sian begins her Australian life in Sydney but soon moves to the fledgling town of Darwin. Both towns are very different to home.

Sian: A New Australian’ is part of a series from Scholastic exploring the lives of new Australians. Previous titles include ‘Kerenza’ and ‘Bridget’. Sian’s story is set in 1910. She is a bright and resourceful protagonist, even when it seems that her ‘luck’ continues to set the world against her. She adapts to the changes in her life with curiosity, positivity and hard work. Although she has little involvement in early decisions that affect her life, she is thoughtful and brave when the time comes when she must make decisions for herself. This, as with other titles in the series, offers young readers insights into Australian history through the eyes of characters of their own age. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Sian: A New Australian, D. Luckett
Scholastic Australia 2015 ISBN: 9781742990392

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Bob the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Corinne Fenton

Bob, the Railway DogBob would jump onto the footplate of one train, leap off again at some wayside spot, then clamber onto another train heading in the opposite direction.
There was hardly a town in South Australia he did not visit, from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo.

In the early days of Australian railways, when shiny new tracks opened up vast areas of rural Australia, a special dog developed a taste for travel. Bob, as he was named by his first owner, Guard Ferry, travelled first with Guard Ferry then later on any train he could hitch a lift on, and became a favourite with drivers, guards and porters. Today, a photo of Bob still sits in memorial to him at Adelaide Station.

Bob, the Railway Dog is a beautiful historical picture book told with the warm simplicity at which author Corinne Fenton is so very adept. WIih key facts and events wven into the story, readers will nontheless feel like it is a story, with Bob painted as a really endearing character. The artwork, in watercolour, charcoal and pencil, are similarly warm and inviting bringing both Bob and the era to life. Buildings, landscapes, people and, of course, Bob himself are rendered beautifully, making for a really attractive whole.

Bob, the Railway Dog is a treasure.

Bob, the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean
Black Dog Books, 2015
ISBN 9781922179890

Available from good bookstores and online.

Meet Banjo Paterson, by Kristin Weidenbach & James Gulliver Hancock

Meet... Banjo Paterson (Meet...)As he sat in his dingy office, Banjo dreamed of the drovers bringing big mobs of cattle down from Queensland. He stared out the window and longed to swap places with those in the back of beyond.

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson is one of Australia’s best known and loved poets. Poems such as ‘The Man From Snowy River’, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ have entertained Australians of all ages for more than a century. Meet… Banjo Paterson introduces young readers to the man behind the poems, and how he came to write them.

Told in simple language the text focusses on key events in Paterson’s life and how these translated to the page. Illustrations on every spread bring scenes to life but also depict the way his imagination worked and, in turn, ignited the imagination of readers.

Part of the Meet… series, which brings notable Australians to life in a form accessible to young readers. Suitable both for classroom use and for private reading.

Meet… Banjo Paterson, Kristin Weidenbach & James Gulliver Hancock
Random House Australia, 2016

Voicing the Dead by Gary Crew

You ask, ‘Can the dead speak?’

I answer, ‘Is this blood that runs in my veins, or ink?’

You ask, ‘Are you real or a character in a book?’

I answer, ‘I am real enough. I call myself Jack Ireland. I am sixteen years old. A century ago I sailed the South Seas. I lived then, I live now.’

You ask, ‘So is this history?’

I answer, ‘If it bores you, shut the book – but you will not silence my voice. After all I have suffered, it is impossible to destroy me. So I ask you to red me. I ask you to hear me. See me. Touch me. Others have, and tasted my blood …’

You ask, ‘Yet you are still alive?’

I answer, ‘Ask no more. Read …’

You ask, ‘Can the dead speak?’  Voicing the Dead

I answer, ‘Is this blood that runs in my veins, or ink?’

You ask, ‘Are you real or a character in a book?’

I answer, ‘I am real enough. I call myself Jack Ireland. I am sixteen years old. A century ago I sailed the South Seas. I lived then, I live now.’

You ask, ‘So is this history?’

I answer, ‘If it bores you, shut the book – but you will not silence my voice. After all I have suffered, it is impossible to destroy me. So I ask you to red me. I ask you to hear me. See me. Touch me. Others have, and tasted my blood …’

You ask, ‘Yet you are still alive?’

I answer, ‘Ask no more. Read …’

Jack Ireland was best boy to the captain of ‘Charles Eaton’ a sailing ship in the 1830s. He thinks well of himself, perhaps a little too well. Even before the ship has pulled anchor, he has to revise his thinking and become a little more humble. But his life aboard ship is easier than many of the the crew and some of the passengers. The ‘Charles Eaton’ travels to Australia and delivers its load before heading north into the Torres Strait. There they are shipwrecked and Jack’s real adventure begins. Their boats are wrecked and passengers and some crew set out on a raft. Jack begins to show his mettle as the remaining crew seek food and build a second raft. They discover tropical paradise islands and encounter indigenous islanders. These are traders. Jack doesn’t need to understand their language to realise that he and others are tradeable.

Fourteen-year-old Jack Ireland is determined to tell his own tale. Others have told it, he says, but not as truly as he can himself. He finds himself with ‘ink in his veins’ and able to travel through and reference all the books he’s read. And having been the Captain’s best boy, he’s read his way through the Captain’s vast library. More than this, he’s read through many other books throughout time, both before and after his shipwreck. He quotes from books written about the ‘Charles Eaton’ and about himself. He acknowledges where they get it right, but mostly he feels that he is not well-represented, or not well enough. He seeks to set the tale straight. ‘Voicing the Dead’ is based on a real shipwreck, Jack Ireland was one of the survivors, but this story is fiction, a revisiting of the journey leading to the shipwreck and the time afterwards. The reader looking for adventure will find rewards here, as will the historian and literature buff. This is a complex and rich novel, full of intrigue and sensory detail. Recommended for mature secondary-aged readers.

Voicing the Dead, Gary Crew
Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925272055

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Australians At The Great War – 1914-1918, by Peter Burness

The rough and ready fighting spirit of the Australians had become refined by an experienced battle technique supported by staff work of the highest order. The Australians were probably the most effective troops employed in the war on either side.’ Major General John O’Ryan, US 27th Division.

Between 1914 and 1918, 250,000 Australians joined up to fight alongside soldiers from the Allied nations. 60, 000 of these men never came pack, and countless others were wounded. As Australia marks the one hundred year anniversaries of these terrible years, Australians at the Great War – 1914-1918 brings them to life with a stunning collection of photographs, paintings, diagrams and other images, along with commentary to help understand their significance.

There are pictures of destruction and misery, but also glimpses of quieter times, as well as maps, posters and more. This is an excellent visual resource, compiled by historian Peter Burness.

Australians at the Great War – 1914-1918, by Peter Burness
Murdoch Books, 2015
ISBN 9781743363782

Available from good bookstores and online.

Birrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French

Sydney Cove, December 1789

I waited in the line outside the storehouse. Only two convicts were before me – big fellows with tattoos on their arms and dirty bare feet – waiting for their rations too. My tummy was so empty it couldn’t even gurgle.

There was cheese in that storehouse.

I wanted that cheese so bad I could already feel the maggots wriggling against my tongue. Ma used to say that maggots meant food was going bad, but when your tummy is empty, maggots are just extra food. I’d been eating maggots with my cheese for the two years we’d been here in New South Wales, and hadn’t even got a tummy ache. Not from the maggots anyways, Hunger ached worse than bad food.

Sydney Cove, December 1789

I waited in the line outside the storehouse. Only two convicts were before me – big fellows with tattoos on their arms and dirty bare feet – waiting for their rations too. My tummy was so empty it couldn’t even gurgle.

There was cheese in that storehouse.

I wanted that cheese so bad I could already feel the maggots wriggling against my tongue. Ma used to say that maggots meant food was going bad, but when your tummy is empty, maggots are just extra food. I’d been eating maggots with my cheese for the two years we’d been here in New South Wales, and hadn’t even got a tummy ache. Not from the maggots anyways, Hunger ached worse than bad food.

Barney is a young boy eking out an existence in the first days of Sydney’s settlement. His mother is dead and he’s caring for a girl he found in the days after his mother’s death. Sydney is a tough place and he’s constantly on his guard. Which is why, when he meets Birrung, Richard Johnson and his family, he is slow to trust. But gradually he settles into his new life, working hard and trying to decipher the mysteries around Birrung’s presence in the family. Mark Wilson’s fine drawings at the head of each chapter help to showcase aspects of the fledgling colony. Birrung the Secret Friend is the first in a new series from Jackie French.

Truth, it is said, is stranger than fiction and it’s difficult to look back at the early days of white settlement in Australia and understand some of the peculiarities and beliefs. Told from the perspective of a young illiterate boy, Birrung the Secret Friend shows that education doesn’t guarantee any common sense. French’s Sydney is a tough place, full of thieves and those who cling to the ways of England. But for those who embrace the opportunities offered in Australia, who are prepared to work hard, there is much to be gained. Birrung the Secret Friend also paints a picture of relationships between settlers and ‘Indians’ (as Barney calls them). There is a sadness for what could have been a very different relationship between the two populations, and a theory for why this couldn’t be. A very readable story of childhood friendships in a long-ago Sydney. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

 

Birrung the Secret Friend, Jackie French Angus & Robertson 2015 ISBN: 9780732299439

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com