It’s time for some picture book love today and we were lucky enough to receive a little gem from Allen & Unwin (thanks!) that is informative, entertaining and a brilliant conversation starter for the sports fans among you. Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the Real First Eleven by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton, tells the story of the first Australian cricket team – made up entirely of Indigenous men – to tour England. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
The first Australian cricket team to tour England was a group of Aboriginal stockmen. This is their story. In 1868 a determined team of Aboriginal cricketers set off on a journey across the world to take on England’s best. Led by star all-rounder Johnny Mullagh, and wearing caps embroidered with a boomerang and a bat, they delighted crowds with their exceptional skill. From the creators of Jandamarra, this is the remarkable story of the real first 11.
If you’re looking for a cracking (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) narrative non-fiction picture book for the reluctant, sports-mad, mini-fleshing in your life, you should certainly get a hold of Boomerang and Bat. Pitched at the middle to upper primary age range, the book takes an engaging look at the first Australian cricket team to tour England. I found the story fascinating as an adult reader, with plenty of questions springing to my mind – not least of which, why is this event not more widely acknowledged and why are Indigenous people nowadays conspicuous only by their absence from our national cricket teams? – and I’m sure young cricket fans will get a kick out of seeing cricket “in the olden days”. (No Rocket Man at these matches!)
The story has an incredibly subtle undertone that depicts aspects of life for indigenous people of the time. While the team is received well as cricketers, there is still an undercurrent of “look at the performing natives” that is conveyed through the text and imagery. I can imagine the book being used to excellent effect in the classroom to stimulate discussion around the social issues of the time – how would the men have felt, being lauded for their sporting skills, but not counted as citizens? Did circumstances change for the men when they returned to Australia? Did the men feel the trip was worthwhile, considering the death of one of their teammates?
The presentation of the book is gorgeous, with Terry Denton’s illustrations bringing the text to life. The beautiful map that adorns the front endpapers is matched by the final endpapers depicting images of each of the team members, with their names, nicknames and a piece of information about their role in the team. It’s hard to imagine Terry Denton as a separate entity from the Griffiths/Denton Juggernaut, but it’s wonderful to appreciate a more realistic illustrative style in this tome.
I will admit to enjoying this book enormously as an adult reader and being drawn in to the mystery of this event being lost in the annals of time. I’m interested in finding out more – did these men have descendants? If so, what do they think of their great-grandfathers’ sporting achievements? Could their perspectives have been included in this book somehow?
I think the mark of a good non-fiction book is to stimulate further curiosity about the topic. Boomerang and Bat has certainly achieved this for me as an adult reader and I can see it doing the same for mini-fleshlings. Teachers in particular, get your grabby hands on this one and get it into your classrooms: stimulating discussion will be guaranteed!
Until next time,