Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss

I hear Mum again, and almost wish I had a different name, like Cathy. And then I see her, my hero, Cathy Freeman. In my mind she is running gracefully on the track; she is smiling and isn’t even showing any effect of the heat of the sun. She’s breathing at the correct pace, not like me, panting away. And then I imagine I am her, turning my legs over in smooth rotation, faster and faster, focusing on the finish line, and before I know it, I’m there. I’ve overtaken the two girls who were ahead of me.

Mel Gordon loves to run. Her idol is Cathy Freeman, Australia’s best sprinter. Mel wants to be as good as Cathy one day – and represent Australia in the Olympics. First, though, she wants to see Cathy run at the Sydney Olympics, and win gold.

The year 2000 turns out to be a big one for Mel, as for many Australians. As well as the looming Olympics, a letter to Cathy Freeman leads to her promising to visit the school during Reconciliation Week. And before that, Mel’s family are planning a road trip to Sydney to take part in Corroboree 2000, a landmark march to celebrate Australia’s indigenous heritage, and push for reconciliation and, particularly, an apology for the stolen generation. Mel’s Nanna is a member of the Stolen Generation, making the march especially significant and, while Mel and her twin brother Sam love sport and school, there are times when they have to educate their non-Murri classmates about issues surrounding race and equality.

Part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story imprint, Our Race for Reconciliation explores major events of the turn of the millenium in Australia, with a special focus on the issue of Reconciliation, a topic which is always important in Australia, but is particularly significant in 2017, being the 50th anniversary year of the 1967 Referendum, which saw Australians vote for recognition of Aboriginal people. Mel’s story of wanting to emulate a role model is one which many children, from varied backgrounds, will connect with, and Heiss weaves the various issues and historical events into the story in a wonderful blend of entertainment and education.

A must-read for middle and upper primary children.

Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276119

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! by Katrina Germein ill Janine Dawson

Aussie Rules is awesome.
I always arrive on time.
Out on the boundary Bailey warms up.
He takes a bounce and boots the ball; a banana kick bends to me.

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark!’ begins with the arrival of players at an AFL football game, continues through the game and ends as the game does. Told from the perspective of one of the players, it is also an alphabet book. As the game progresses, so does the alphabet. Every player has a chance to shine, whether it’s taking marks, making a pass, or kicking a goal. The rain may come down, the grass may turn into mud, but nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of these ball players. Illustrations depict a dull and rainy day with umbrella-wielding parents cheering from the sidelines.

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark!’ celebrates junior AFL football, and all the things it should be about – having fun, having a go, learning teamwork and sliding in the mud. The alphabetic sentences read easily and are full of football-ness. The illustrations are full of extra elements for the reader to find, from the mud following the flight of the ball on the ‘f’ page to the child eating under the watchful eye of a magpie on the ‘v’ page. A broad range of cultures and body types are represented, as is the child who lives, eats, breathes and sleeps football. Recommended for early-schoolers.

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark!, Katrina Germein ill Janine Dawson
Ford Street Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272673

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Legend Series 3: Down the Line by Michael Panckridge

‘Where do we go?’ I asked Jack as we raced around the corner of the hall.
We had just finished assembly. All the cricket winners had been presented with their trophies and certificates when Travis Fisk had asked, with a sinister smile on his face, if we’d seen Bryce Flavel around.
Straightaway we knew something was up. And judging by the smirk on Travis’ face, it wasn’t looking good for Bryce.
Our friendly genius was big on brain, but muscle wasn’t so big on him.

Mitchell and his friends are back in round three of the Legend competition. This time it’s tennis. Previously, Mitchell has won both surfing and cricket competitions to be the individual sport legend. All points add to an overall tally, the winner of which becomes Legend of Sport for the year. Travis Fisk, who has up until now been the hero of every sport, is not happy. Neither is his sports-crazy, school sponsor father. It seems that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their ambitions. Each instalment in the series begins with an outline of the upcoming sport and structure of the points system. Final pages offer sports stats and a quiz.

Mitchell is settling well into his new school, making both friends and an enemy. Travis Fisk seems to have it for everyone, determined as he seems to win everything. Travis is showing occasional cracks in his bully mask, though there’s still plenty of antagonism. Where Travis has two thugs who do whatever he tells them, Mitchell’s friends are more varied and each brings their own talents and skills to the friendship. There are plenty of sport stats and strategies here, but also themes around friendship and bullying. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those overwhelmed by novels.

The Legends: Down the Line, Michael Panckridge

Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272635

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack

We always seem to be looking for Bryce Flavel. Before the school holidays, after the Legend of Tennis presentation, we’d been looking for him when he suddenly popped out of nowhere at one end of the library.
Now we were back in the same place, again looking for our missing friend.
‘Bryce?’
‘There he is,’ said Bubba, pointing to the deepest and furthest part of the library. We raced over. Well, okay, we didn’t exactly race over, but we hustled and bumped our way across as fast as we could go with Mrs Lee, the library staff member on duty, watching us over her glasses.

Mitchell and friends (and bully Travis Fisk) are back for a fourth instalment of the Legend Series, this time featuring football (and netball for the girls, although there’s a hint that next year, girls will be playing football too). Those competing will be judged on skills and knowledge as well as performance. As usual, Mitchell and his friends are fully part of the excitement. This time though, there’s also more than one mystery to be unravelled. Each book begins with an index, an outline of the Legend of Sport rules and conditions and a prologue summarising what has come before. Final pages offer statistics and details of each element.

Mitchell and friends are competing at football (and netball) this round of the Legend competition. Although Travis and his thugs are still causing mayhem, there are glimpses behind the bullying to a more reasonable Travis – not many, but enough to give the reader a chance to wonder at what causes his behaviour. Jack’s not having a lot of fun though, and Bryce’s behaviour is even more odd. So as well as lots of details about sports, there are other clues to be deciphered, other mysteries to solve. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those who would rather be outside with a ball.

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack, Michael Panckridge
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272642

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Game of Their Lives, by Nick Richardson

While the match was, at one level, an exhibition for the Diggers and the curious onlookers, for the players it was something else – a chance to run around in the open air, to play the game they loved and test themselves in the way that they knew, body on body, running, jumping and kicking. It was a wonderful antidote to the dull routine of training and the anxiety of anticipation about what was ahead.

Australian Rules Football has a long history here at home, but has often been an enigma to people in other countries. For one day in 1916, though, football took centre stage when two teams of Australian soldiers played an exhibition match in London. The teams, drawn from soldiers waiting to be called to the Western Front, comprised men who had played football in teams across Australia, some of them big name players. In the weeks leading up to the match they trained hard and, on the day, for just a few hours, they could play the game they loved almost as if they were back home in Australia.

The Game of Their Lives tells the story of the game, and of the men who played in it. Starting before the war, and tracing through to the years following, readers are introduced to the players, umpires and officials as well as to men who made the game possible, including General Monash and YMCA man, and Australian swimmer, Frank Beaurepair. There is also close exploration of the impact of the war on sport at home in Australia, particularly the pressure for sportsmen to enlist, and the conscription debate.

For anyone with a love of football or war history.

The Game of Their Lives , by Nick Richardson
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743536667

The Legend Series 1: Chasing the Break by Michael Panckridge

Assemblies are pretty much the same everywhere, even first day of the year ones.

I should know. This was my third new school in five years. Big pack of kids.

Teachers standing round the edges. A few mums holding babies.

We were sitting in a hall. Preppies were way down at the front looking nervous and excited, and the big kids – the kids in their final year – up the back here, with me. None of the kids around me looked nervous … was I the only new kid? I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the speaker out the front.

Assemblies are pretty much the same everywhere, even first day of the year ones.

I should know. This was my third new school in five years. Big pack of kids.

Teachers standing round the edges. A few mums holding babies.

We were sitting in a hall. Preppies were way down at the front looking nervous and excited, and the big kids – the kids in their final year – up the back here, with me. None of the kids around me looked nervous … was I the only new kid? I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the speaker out the front.

Mitchell Grady is the new kid at school. At his new school, Sandhurst Primary, there’s a tradition – every year, the two upper year level students can compete in individual sports to become a ‘legend’, and if they chose they can compete in all sports to be ‘Legend of Sport’. Mitchell is good at sport, this just might be his way into this new school. But Travis Fisk is already ‘Legend of Sport’ from last year and he’s intent on repeating his win by whatever methods necessary. Chasing the Break is set at school camp by the sea, and the sport that may or may not be included in the championship is surfing.

The Legend Series has been written (according to a note at the front of the book) particularly with sports-lovers in mind. They are full of sport detail and short enough to read quickly. They are told from the perspective of new kid Mitchell and allow an outsiders look at the culture of the school he’s just joined. Mitchell’s voice is a mature one and there are nods to his beginning interest – purely platonic – in some of the female sports students. Extras include a contents page, a quiz, statistics and more. Re-jacketed and with a new publisher, Chasing the Break will find a new readership, particularly amongst the sporty kids.

The Legend Series 1: Chasing the Break, Michael Panckridge
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272482

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Legend Series 2: Against the Spin by Michael Panckridge

Mr Bronsen said cricket was a game you had to live and breathe. At first, I didn’t get that. But I was beginning to understand. It meant having a cricket ball in your hands – all the time. It meant reading about the Australian cricket team – past and present. It meant listening to the experts and watching the game whenever you get the chance. And, of course, it meant playing. It also meant lying in bed at night dreaming of walking out to play for your country.

‘Hey, kid, can you bat?’

Mr Bronsen said cricket was a game you had to live and breathe. At first, I didn’t get that. But I was beginning to understand. It meant having a cricket ball in your hands – all the time. It meant reading about the Australian cricket team – past and present. It meant listening to the experts and watching the game whenever you get the chance. And, of course, it meant playing. It also meant lying in bed at night dreaming of walking out to play for your country.

‘Hey, kid, can you bat?’

Mitchell is back in a new title in The Legend Series. This time the sport is cricket and there’s a buzz about the school as the students speculate if Mitchell has a chance of beating Travis Fisk, last year’s winner of the Cricket Legend title. After winning the Surfing Legend title, Mitchell is keen to compete in the cricket competition. Mitchell is still the ‘new kid’ but he’s making friends quickly and there are plenty of others who’d be happy to see bad boy Travis eat crow. Cricket is also new friend, Bubba’s favourite game, although his parents would prefer he never played again. By fair means or foul, this is going to be a hot competition.

The Legend Series is back, reworked, rejacketed and with a new publisher, ready for a new generation of readers. Each is designed to appeal to keen sports people, particularly those who might find sitting down for extended periods challenging. Short chapters, thrills and spills, statistics and scorecards all keep the pages turning. Mitchell tells his story and although the boys’ competition gains most of the airtime, there is a parallel girls’s cricket competition and Mitchell is full of admiration for several of the girls, and perhaps one in particular. Recommended for sports fans and reluctant readers.

The Legend Series 2: Against the Spin, Michael Panckridge
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272499

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

On Track, by Kathryn Apel

Sometimes it feels  
like my body doesn’t belong
to me, like I tell it to do stuff
and it doesn’t. My feet stumble along
and trip over each other, my hands fumble
and drop, and it’s almost like I’m wrapped in
invisible bubble wrap – stumbly, fumbly, bumbly –
like a spaceman bumping and blundering along.

Toby and his brother Shaun were born less than a year apart, but though they are close in age, they are very different in every other way. Shaun is smart, and good at everything he does. Toby struggles at school, and doesn’t find anything easy – except running away from his ‘big, better brother.’ Shaun might be good at everything, but he feels that people don’t notice his successes – especially when Toby is around.

Tensions between the brothers grow when Toby is diagnosed with a muscular condition and starts getting extra help, including a new laptop for school. When he then joins the school’s athletics team, Shaun resents that this means the coach will spend less time with him. With Sports Day getting closer, tensions between the pair grow.

On Track is a wonderful verse novel about sibling rivalry, self identity and self confidence. Told through the dual first person narratives of Shaun and Toby, the story allows readers to see both brothers’ struggles and motivations, allowing empathy for both to develop. This in turn will help readers to see that individual differences are not always better or worse.

This is Apel’s second verse novel, and makes excellent use of the form, allowing an emotional connection with the two characters. Readers will care about the boys and what happens to them, and the resolution is satisfying without being overly contrived. The inclusion of sport in the plot will add interest for many readers.

On Track, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253737

Available from good bookstores and online.

Knockabout Cricket: A Story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh by Neridah McMullin ill Ainsley Walters

It was 1865 and James was home from boarding school at Scotch College in Melbourne.
He wasn’t looking forward to another boring school holiday – it was shearing time at Pine Hills station and everyone was busy.

It was 1865 and James was home from boarding school at Scotch College in Melbourne. He wasn’t looking forward to another boring Image result for 9780992439736school holiday – it was shearing time at Pine Hills station and everyone was busy.

Pine Hills station was a squatters run in Western Victoria. A vast 30,000 acres; it ran sheep to grow wool. Pine Hills station played cricket against neighbouring stations at Mullagh Station, Longlands, Clunie, Miga Lake, Lake Wallace, Mount Talbot, Chetwynd and Bringalbert.

James, son of a prominent squatter family, is expecting his holidays to be boring as everyone is busy with shearing. But this holiday, he discovers, will be anything but boring. Playing cricket with the shearers when work is done for the day, he meets Unaarrimin of the Jardwadjali people (known as Johnny). Johnny is an amazing fielder with the ability to throw long distances. James invites Johnny to join their game, and teaches him batting and bowling techniques. As James tells the story of  Johnny’s first game, text boxes on each opening offer information about Johnny’s international career as a cricketer. There is also information about the aboriginal cricket team, beginning with the game they played against the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) at the MCG in 1866. Illustrations are naïve and depict a sun-drenched Western District grazing property and landscape. Final pages include a drawing and biography of Johnny, a summary of the positions on a cricket field and a bibliography.

Knockabout Cricket introduces early days of Australian cricket as well as squatter life in the 1860s. The dual texts have their own pace: the fictional narrative text takes place during a single cricket game, although the game continues long into the late afternoon. The text boxes cover a much broader and longer story about Johnny and Aboriginal cricketers and cricket in general. Young cricketers will enjoy the cricketing language throughout. There’s also the opportunity to learn a little about life on the land in the 1800s, and the history of cricket. The mix of fact and fiction allow ‘Knockabout Cricket’ to be accessible to a wide range of young readers. Recommended for early to mid-primary readers and beyond.

Knockabout Cricket: A Story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh, Neridah McMullin ill Ainsley Walters One Tree Hill 2015 ISBN: 9780992439736

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Noah and Ben both play weekend footy in the country town where they live and where they attend the same high school. They are both being tipped as contenders for the Bushrangers Development squad. Noah plays with the Mavericks, Ben with their archrival Kookaburras. As the new season of football begins, pressure builds for both boys. For Noah, racism is an extra complication he needs to find a way to manage both on and off the field. Ben is struggling with the attitudes at the club where his father played and where he is expected to remain. The boys form an unexpected friendship, united in their striving for Bushrangers selection.

Footy Dreaming is told in third person omniscient so the reader is able to experience a wide range of viewpoints, although most of the action happens in Noah’s and in Ben’s point of view. But there are also the voices of the townspeople. There’s racism, family loyalty and dynamics, club loyalty, football passion, first tentative relationship, gender roles and more. Primarily, Footy Dreaming is about striving to be the best and to have a chance to shine. There’s plenty here to generate classroom or family discussion. But before that, it’s a ripper read, ideal for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Footy Dreaming, Michael Hyde Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000993

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com