Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes, by Krista Bell & Ainsley Walters

When the ashes were ready, Russell put his hand in his pocket and pulled out one of his mother’s empty perfume bottles. It was porcelain and had two tiny handles.
‘How wonderful!’ laughed Miss Morphy. ‘It looks exactly like a miniature urn. Well done, Russell.’
‘This is perfect, darling,’ exclaimed his mother. ‘A real urn for our Rupertswood “Ashes”.’

When the touring English cricket team visits his family home in Rupertswood, Russell Clarke is delighted. He loves cricket and longs to be part of the fun. So when his mother and her companion decide to burn the bails from a match and present it to the English captain, Russell joins in by finding the perfect vessel for the ashes.

Burning the Bails is a fictionalised account of the true story behind the Ashes, the trophy for the cricket test series between Australia and England. While Russell’s involvement is imagined, the story is based on fact, and will give young cricket fans an insight into the origin and significance of the Ashes.

With the story supported by photographs, pages of historical facts, and the illustrative work of Ainsley Walters, and with the Ashes series currently being played in Australia, this is a wonderful offering for young cricketers.


Burning The Bails

Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes, by Krista Bell, illustrated by Ainsley Walters
One Day Hill, 2013
ISBN 978098731398

Available from good bookstores or

The River Charm, by Belinda Murrell

‘Wh…who are you?’ asked Millie, her mouth dry, her heart thumping. ‘What are you doing here?’
The girl stared at her, quiet and mysterious, her dark eyes shining in the dim moonlight. Behind her, Millie thought she could see a shadowy forest of grey-green gum trees and silvery bark. A glimmering river flowed behind her.
‘Are you a ghost or a dream?’ wondered Millie out loud, hugging herself against the pillows.

Millie loves to paint, but when she paints a picture of a girl who appears to her in a dream, it is something special. When her mother takes her and her sister to visit a long-lost aunt in the country, Millie is amazed. The dream girl appears to her again. Could it be that she is somehow connected to the girl?

The River Charm is the story of Oldbury, a colonial estate, and of the Atkinson family, its original owners. In 1839 Charlotte Atkinson, the ghost girl from Millie’s visions, lives in Oldbury with her mother and siblings. Life is difficult. the children’s father has died, and their mother has remarried. their stepfather is a cruel alcoholic, and the entire estate is at risk. Fortunately for the children their mother is determined to keep them safe.

Charlotte Waring Atkinson was the author of the first children’s book published in Australia. This fictionalised account of part of her life is particularly special because it is the work of her great-great-great-great=granddaughter, author Belinda Murrell, whose historical tale makes use of a time slip motif to contrast past and present, as well as making links between the two time periods. Set in the Australian bush, the story will appeal to readers aged 10-14.


The River Charm

The River Charm, by Belinda Murrell
Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781742757124

Available from good bookstores or here.

You can read more about the writing of this book in Belinda’s blog post here.

That Boy, Jack, by Janeen Brian

“…Captain Trelwaney will take you on as well. We can both start work on the picky-table. And we can both earn money.”
I stood frozen, eyes wide.
“I knew you’d be pleased,” said Gilbert. “I have to go now. See you later.”
He didn’t say when and I didn’t ask.

Jack and Gilbert have been best friends for years, and have made a pact that when they’re older they’ll work together in the copper mines, just like their fathers do. But Jack doesn’t know how to tell Gilbert that the thought of working underground terrifies him. On top of that, he loves school and learning, and his mother is keen for him to succeed there. So, when Gilbert is suddenly responsible for the family income, and leaves school to start work, Jack is torn: should he keep the promise he made to his friend, or should he follow the path his heart is keen to take?

That Boy, Jack is a story of friendship and courage, set in and around the South Australian township of Moonta in the 1870s. Depicting aspects of Australian history which may be unfamiliar to young readers, the story will appeal both to young history buffs and to any reader who simply likes a story of adventure. Jack must work hard at home, as well as at school and paid employment, and young readers may be surprised at just how much was expected of a twelve year old boy in the time period. As well as friendship and courage, the story also explores issues including education, family, health and even left-handedness.

Brian weaves a story which allows the reader to experience both this history and the personal journey in an intimate, exciting way.

That Boy, Jack

That Boy, Jack, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781922179005

Available from good bookstores and online.

Amber Road, by Boyd Anderson

Thunder was beginning to roll across the water. The storm would soon arrive.

Victoria Khoo is seventeen, and very sure of her destiny. She will marry Sebastian Boustead and become the mistress of the family mansion, next to her own family’s home in Amber Road. When she learns that Sebastian has arrived back from England with a fiancée in two, she is sure there is some kind of mistake. They are meant to be together. But within days, Victoria has more weighty issues to deal with, as the war reaches Asia and Singapore surrenders to the Japanese.

Soon Victoria’s family is separated – her parents and sisters fleeing to the family rubber plantation, and Victoria living with her stepmother (her father’s number two wife), grandmother and half siblings in Singapore. Under Japanese occupation, Singapore is no longer the idyllic British colony of Victoria’s childhood. She must do what she can to survive the war and protect her family. Yet she will not abandon her dream of one day fulfilling her destiny as Sebastian’s wife, even though she is now responsible for ensuring his fiancée’s safety, and she herself has a new friendship with a charismatic Australian.

Amber Road is an absorbing tale of one woman’s experience of wartime Singapore. Victoria is, at the start of the story, a self absorbed teen and it is intriguing to watch her growth amidst terrible hardship. At the same time the reader is aware that much of the determination she shows is something she already possessed, and her self absorption is one of the tools which helps her survive.

With romance, suspense, history and more, Amber Road is a well told tale which leaves the reader wanting to follow the characters into their future to see what unfolds next.

Amber Road

Amber Road, by Boyd Anderson
Bantam, an imprint of Random House, 2013
ISBN 9781742759395

Available from good bookstores or online.

Light Horse Boy, by Dianne Wolfer

Now I understand why the landing on April 25th is being called heroic.
We’ve landed in hell.
Bob didn’t make it. He was hit as we struggled ashore. I keep going over that moment. Writing a letter to his wife was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Harder even than going over the side of our ship.

Britain has declared war on Germany, and Australia has vowed to be there. Jim, seeing a chance for adventure rushes to join up before the war ends without him. Soon he and his horse, Breaker, are sailing from Melbourne, off to do their bit. For four years Jim lives the terrible reality of life on the frontline. If he ever returns home, he will be a changed man.

Light Horse Boy is a beautiful record of one soldier’s war. Whilst fiction, it presents a story which could so well be the story of a real soldier’s experience. Using a blend of third person narrative and letters, chiefly between Jim and his sister Alice, back in Australia, Woofer takes readers on a journey through the the years of the first World War, focussing on the role of the Lighthorseman in Gallipoli and Egypt.

Light Horse Boy is a companion volume to Lighthouse Girl and features the same beautiful hard cover design and the brilliant illustrative work of Brian Simmonds. The two complement each other beautifully, though focussing on different aspects of the same war and featuring different characters (with the exception of Charlie, who is friends with Jim but also connects with the lighthouse girl, Fay).

A picture book for older readers, Light Horse Boy is suitable for upper primary and teens.

Light Horse Boy

Light Horse Boy, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Fremantle Press, 2013
ISBN 9781922089137

Available from good bookstores or online.

Gallipoli, by Alan Tucker

The attack has been timed to the minute. Thirty minutes from now we’ll climb down the rope ladders into the lighters and find our seat. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been chosen as one of the 500 men from my battalion who will be in the first wave to land. The Turks won’t know what’s hit them…

Victor Marsh longs for adventure. Not looking forward to a a career as an underground miner, he jumps at the chance to enlist and fight for his country – even though, at just 14 years of age, he has to lie to be able to enlist. Soon, with his new friends Fish, Needle and Robbo, he is trained and sailing for Egypt then on to Gallipoli where, over eight torrid months, he fights not just for his country, but for survival, learning just what war really means, the value of friendship, and just how much courage is needed to carry on.

Gallipoli , part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story records the events of 1915 from the first person perspective of a young soldier, through diary format and the letters he sends to and receives from his mother. Whilst the story is not new, this diary format and the young age of the protagonist, allows the child reader an insight into the realities of the Gallipoli campaign and of war in general. The sub plot of Victor’s ‘gut’ friend Hans, an elderly family friend who, because he is German, is interned for the duration of the war, adds an element which may be less familiar to young readers, and a story which needs to be told.

A valuable educational tool but also simply an absorbing story.

Gallipoli (My Australian Story)

Gallipoli , by Alan Tucker
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742836935

Available from good bookstores or online.

Hammering Iron by L.S. Lawrence

Paramon and his brother and widowed-mother, are poor but of noble lineage. Paramon has been apprenticed to the storeman and his brother is shield-carrier to the Lord. That may have been the plan, but fate would have it otherwise. An unfortunate accident sets Paramon on a journey he could not have imagined. But he is a canny and resourceful young man. With a little luck, a quick mind and a sense of caution, he travels his destined road almost safely. But this is the Bronze-age and safe is a relative term. Along his journey, he makes a discovery that may just cost him his life.

‘… and of small bronze ingots, twenty and three,’ called Master Onesimos. Then, a moment later, and much louder: ‘Paramon!’

Paramon started sharply, and wrenched his mind away from the horses that were being led past the open door of the storehouse. He groped for his writing stick, found it, dropped it, picked up the soft clay tablet he had let fall in his lap, found his writing stick again, smoothed out a random scratch or two in the clay, poised the stick to write, saw that he had chewed the end of it into useless splinters, reversed it, and found that he had forgotten how many bars there were.

Start by writing ‘bronze’. If he could get that right, maybe he’d escape the usual reward for not paying attention.

Paramon and his brother and widowed-mother, are poor but of noble lineage. Paramon has been apprenticed to the storeman and his brother is shield-carrier to the Lord. That may have been the plan, but fate would have it otherwise. An unfortunate accident sets Paramon on a journey he could not have imagined. But he is a canny and resourceful young man. With a little luck, a quick mind and a sense of caution, he travels his destined road almost safely. But this is the Bronze-age and safe is a relative term. Along his journey, he makes a discovery that may just cost him his life.

Hammering Iron takes the reader into a world very different to now. Bronze is the choice of kings and lords when it comes to battle. But it is expensive and time-consuming to produce. And it’s flawed. Like the society that values war above most other things, and considers the common people expendable. Families must tread warily if they are to stay in favour and be able to earn a living. Even the ‘good’ lords think mostly in terms of their own gain rather than the good of their people. Despite the challenges of this world, Paramon shows there are ways to not only survive but to thrive. He works within the flawed parameters of his existence. His strength of character enables him to survive an adventure that could well have cost him his life, many times over. Recommended for early secondary readers, particularly history and adventure fans.

Hammering Iron

Hammering Iron, L.S. Lawrence
Omnibus Books 2012
ISBN: 9781862919716

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author


Available from good bookstores or online.

Chasing the Light, by Jesse Blackadder

This was the moment, after her twenty patient years, after her cheerful mothering, after her steadfast support, that he’d remember the adventurous woman he’d married, and the promise he’d made her. She took a deep breath, drawing in air to the bottom of her lungs, and tried to imagine an even deeper cold.
‘I suppose we’ll go on Norvegia?’ she asked.
‘Hjalmar said Norvegia tossed like a tin toy in the storms last year,’ Lars said. ‘I don’t want to take any risks. I’ll go on Thorshavn.’
It took a moment for his use of the singular to sink in. ‘You couldn’t go without me,’ she said.

Ingrid Christensen has always longed to visit Antarctica, but her husband Lars, a Norwegian whaling magnate, is reluctant to take her, until he realises that she could be the first woman to set foot there, a great honour for both of them, and for Norway. Soon Ingrid is finally southward bound, but she is not the only woman on board. Her travelling companion is Mathilde Wegger, a grieving widow who has been forced onto the trip by her scheming in-laws. The third woman is Lillemor Rachlew, a photographer who has cheated to get on-board and is determined to beat both of the others as the first woman to land on the frozen continent.

The three women could be friends, but they are very different, and they are competing for more than the honour of being first to land in Antarctica.They must also face the dangers of their journey, the horrors of seeing whaling enterprises for themselves, and the vagaries of the weather and of fate.

Chasing the Light is a fascinating tale based on the story of the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Whilst a wonderful insight into the lives and times of the women who first ventured to Antarctica, it is also a marvellous study of human relationships and the lengths people will go to to meet their personal goals, as well as the ways those dreams can be shaped and altered by life experience and changed perspectives. The three women are as different as they are each in their own way determined, and readers will find each alternately endearing and frustrating. The twists and turns of their journey are fascinating and the outcome unexpected.

Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica

Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica, by Jesse Blackadder
Fourth Estate, 2013
ISBN 9780732296049

Available from good bookstores or here.

The Ghost at the Point, by Charlotte Calder

If Gah noticed that she was quieter than usual during the meal, he did’t say anything. One thing was for sure, she thought, absently chewing. Half-light or not, roos didn’t wear pants and a shirt, and have big eyes staring out from under a tangled mass of dark curls.
It was a boy she’d seen vanishing around that stringybark. A boy about her own age.

Before she died, Dorrie’s Aunt Gertrude was sure there was a ghost that haunted the family home, but Dorrie didn’t believe her. But then she catches sight of a boy lurking under the stringybarks at night, and then strange things start happening around the house. Her grandfather, Gah, says there is no such thing as ghosts, but now Dorrie isn’t so sure. She is going to get to the bottom of what’s happening, even if she has to catch the ghost herself.

The Ghost at the Point is absorbing historical fiction, set in 1931 on an island on Australia’s south coast. Although seemingly a ghost story in the early chapters, it becomes a blend of mystery and action, as Dorrie and her two new friends are unwittingly drawn into a hunt for treasure.

Dorrie is a brave girl whose times and lifestyle will intrigue young readers. She rides to school, barefoot, on the back of a Clydesdale, and lives in a house with no electricity. Her friend Alonso is shipwrecked on the island and hides in the dunes near her house in a shelter made of corrugated iron. Their friendship is formed in spite of speaking different languages, and they come to rely on each other for survival.

The Ghost at the Point

An action-packed read, suitable for upper primary aged readers.
The Ghost at the Point, by Charlotte Calder
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 9781921977732

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

Ned Kelly's Secret, by Sophie Masson

At that moment, a man stepped out of the bush and all other thoughts fled my head at once.
Short, bearded, middle-aged, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and good clothes with too-large boots, he could have looked like any other traveller. That is, if you ignored the pistols in his belt and the double-barrelled shotgun he was levelling at us.

Hugo is new to Australia, travelling with his French father in search of exciting stories of the gold rush. But before they reach the gold fields they unwittingly become part of a story themselves, when they are held up by the bushranger Harry Power. Afterwards, Hugo’s father decides that the story of the bushrangers is a far more exciting one, and the pair decide to spend some time in Benalla.

When Hugo defends a girl against the tirades of a shopkeeper, he makes some unexepected friends, particularly the girl’s brother, the friendly and fiercely loyal Ned Kelly. Hugo is upset at the poor treatment and judgement levelled at the Kellys, especially Ned, but as their friendship grows he learns more about Ned Kelly’s secrets.

Ned Kelly’s Secret is an absorbing historical tale for upper primary aged readers. Telling just a small part of Ned Kelly’s story through the eyes of a visitor to the country, who nonetheless finds common ground with the young Ned, provides a unique version of events. The story also provides a glimpse at the history of the times, with attention given t travel, landscape and social structure in a way which informs without overtly seeming to do so. Likely to appeal to ages 10 and up.

Ned Kelly's Secret

Ned Kelly’s Secret, by Sophie Masson
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9781742830322

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereveiws.