Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Completely Unrelated Kidlit” Edition…

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I tried and tried, but I couldn’t think of a theme that would link the books for today’s Round-Up, so you’ll just have to bear with me.  We have a picture book based on a classic dance hit, a fairy tale retelling for early chapter book fans and a book of stats and facts for the upcoming T20 Cricket season here in Australia.  Let’s saddle up and ride into this diverse herd!

Footloose (Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers)

* We received a copy of Footloose from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016.  RRP: $19.99

Footloose by Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford & Tim Bowers. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October 2016. RRP: $19.99

When the zoo closes down for the night the fun really starts!  A reimagining of the classic hit song featuring a crowd of dancing animals.

Muster up the motivation because…

…I’m pretty sure nobody needs a reason to bust out a few moves when Footloose comes on the radio and so it will no doubt be with this lively, colourful picture book.  Let me say up front that I’m not the greatest fan of the songs-to-picture-books trend, mostly because the songs are generally awesome on their own and the added book just slows them down, trying to squish slightly awkward text into a pre-existing lyrical framework.  I did find that was the case here to a certain degree.  Footloose is one of the younger mini-fleshling’s favourite boogie tunes and while there were a few smiles throughout the reading of this one, she didn’t express the unbridled glee that I expected, or indeed that she exhibits when she’s throwing down the moves to the song.  The illustrations are certainly inviting and animated and its obvious that the animals are having a cracking time cutting footloose.  There’s also a CD that comes with the book so you can experience the tune in your own home.  Overall, I think little kids will love the vivid illustrations and the general fun vibe of the book, but for me, some of the text didn’t quite work as a read (or sing) aloud, which kind of defeats the purpose of the book, in my opinion.  If you are a fan of the song, you will no doubt end up checking this book out, so do let me know what you think.

Brand it with:

Dancing leads to animal frivolity, 80s dance hits, busting a move

Big Bash Book 2016-17 (Daniel Lane)

* We received a copy of the Big Bash Book 2016-17 from Allen & Unwin for review *

Two (well, one) Sentence Synopsis: 

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016.  RRP: $29.99

Big Bash Book 2016-17 by Daniel Lane. Published by Allen & Unwin, 9th November 2016. RRP: $29.99

A photo-filled look at the players and teams who will feature in this season’s KFC T20 Big Bash league.

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you are a cricket fan, this book will no doubt provide hours and hours of viewing pleasure…much like test cricket itself.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or in a country that doesn’t really play cricket) it will have been impossible not to notice the dramatic rise in popularity of the Big Bash League.  Colourful, loud, reasonably priced and family friendly are words that describe both the League itself, as well as this high quality tome.  It is well known that I have a rather lacklustre attitude towards cricket of any kind, but even I can’t help but get sucked in to the energy and excitement of Big Bash cricket.  This book is much the same.  While I have little to no interest in the contents of this book, I couldn’t help but pick it up and have a flick through.  It is full colour throughout, with big photographs of players and teams, and I’m pleased to note that both men’s and women’s teams are featured.  I immediately flicked through to the Brisbane Heat sections of the book and read up on Chris Lynn (he of the big six hitting capability), while saying a little prayer that the Heat win more than one game this season.  On my flick through the book I also managed to catch a glimpse of one Jake Lehmann, sporting a moustache that is as alluring as it is disturbing.  That aside, predictably, I suppose, when I left the book out in plain sight in the dwelling, it was immediately snatched up by the he-fleshling and the mini-he-fleshling, who began poring over it and discussing their memories of last year’s season (during which the mini-he-fleshling managed to attend a game at the Gabba…the only game of the season that the Heat actually won, so at least they got their money’s worth).  This is clearly a niche market book but would make a fab gift for any cricket fan of your acquaintance.

Brand it with:

I don’t like cricket…(no really, I don’t); family entertainment; fun with fielding

The Spell Thief: Little Legends (Tom Percival)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis: the-spell-thief

When new kid Anansi moves to town, Jack (from the Beanstalk) can’t shake the feeling that there is something shady about him.  After Jack tries to prove his theory, things start going from bad to worse, and Jack must decide how far he is prepared to go to get to the truth.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as early chapter books featuring rehashed fairy tale characters go, this one is of quite a high quality.  The Little Legends series features all your favourite fairy tale characters (including, but not limited to, Jack (of the beanstalk), Red (of the riding hood) and Rapunzel (with the hair)), as well as Jack’s talking pet chicken Betsy (although the only thing she can say is “Whaaaat?”).  The books aren’t retellings of the original fairy tales, but rather feature the familiar characters in fairy tale-like adventures.  In this story, Anansi, who those of African heritage may know as the trickster spirit, arrives in the village and is spotted by Jack engaged in mildly suspicious activity involving imps and trolls.  Jack then sets out on a quest to prove his theory that Anansi is a troublemaker, but predictably ends up causing far more trouble himself.  The book is illustrated throughout, which adds immensely to the story, and although the kids feel a little bit too “Disney” for my liking, the characters are all true to age and true to form, in dialogue and behaviour.  There is also a satisfying mix of male and female characters here, so the book isn’t particularly skewed toward one gender or the other.  I quite enjoyed the story due to the fact that it was a quick read and the action kept moving, with some interesting twists and characters that one might not expect from a fairy tale world.  I think my favourite part of the world is the concept of the great Story Tree; a tree that sits in the middle of town and grows a new branch every time a resident creates a new story through their actions.  As this is the first book in a series, I can imagine that the Story Tree will be sprouting a lot of new branches as the stories keep coming.

Brand it with:

Not your Nanna’s fairy tales; trick or be tricked; water-soluble solutions

It’s an unlikely collection, I’ll admit, but hopefully at least one of these tomes has caught your eye and inspired you to go out and round it up.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

The Rules of Backyard Cricket: A Gentlemen’s Game, My Foot!!

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backyard-cricket

Today’s book might be a little baffling to my North American readers, but stick with it…things might start to make sense.  We received The Rules of Backyard Cricket from Text Publishing via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It starts in a suburban backyard with Darren Keefe and his older brother, sons of a fierce and gutsy single mother. The endless glow of summer, the bottomless fury of contest. All the love and hatred in two small bodies poured into the rules of a made-up game.

Darren has two big talents: cricket and trouble. No surprise that he becomes an Australian sporting star of the bad-boy variety—one of those men who’s always got away with things and just keeps getting.

Until the day we meet him, middle aged, in the boot of a car. Gagged, cable-tied, a bullet in his knee. Everything pointing towards a shallow grave.

Not being known for having a deep and abiding love of cricket, some of you may be wondering why on Earth I would have been interested in reading a book that clearly states that cricket will be involved in the story.  Well, Judgey McJudgerson, even though I find watching professional cricket interminably boring (except for Big Bash…that’s only mildly boring), Backyard Cricket, as every Australian knows, is a far more interesting game.  And so I decided to give this one a go.

I am in two minds.

The book flips between Darren’s present predicament of being locked, against his will, in a car boot, zooming toward probable death (or at least social unpleasantness), and his entire life story before the present moment, beginning with his and his brother’s exploits as young cricketers.  As well as dastardly deeds, violence, gambling, untimely death, failed relationships, secrecy and betrayal, there is an awful lot of cricket in this book.

An awful lot of cricket.

From the backyard variety to the professional international circuit, this book is chock full of cricketing parlance.

I did not particularly enjoy the cricket bits.  Of which there were a lot.

I did, however, enjoy the suspenseful, stuck-in-the-boot-on-the-way-to-unsightly-death bits and there were enough of these to keep me reading.  The redeeming bit of the story for me was definitely the final few chapters which featured only minor cricket symbolism, but a lot of excitement and danger and a hugely satisfying, ambiguous-but-not-really ending that only a mastermind of bookish misery could concoct.

Well played, Jock Serong.

If you enjoy reading about cricket and you love suspense and backstabbing and secrecy and so on as well – my, you’ll be in for a treat with this one.

And just in time for cricket season, too.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the REAL First XI…

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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.

Boomerang and bat

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,

Bruce

 

The Kaboom Kid Series: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Welcome to my brand new review feature! I have thoughtfully titled it the “Five Things I’ve Learned” review and within it I will (in rather obvious fashion) reveal five things I have discovered while reading the featured book!  It’s going to be great.

The books I have chosen are particularly topical at this moment, given that the first test against India has just started as I am writing this and the co-author of the featured books, David Warner, is currently sitting on 77 from 73 balls.  If you have absolutely no understanding of my previous sentence, then I am guessing that you know very little about the sport of cricket.  Or, perhaps, you can’t stand cricket.  Never fear intrepid readers, if you are part of the former group these tomes will introduce you to the sport, and if you are in the second group (of which I am a card carrying member) keep and open mind as you read on.

So today’s offering is the first two books in a new series for 8 – 12 year olds, The Kaboom Kid by David Warner, J.V. McGee and Jules Faber.  These are the next in a current trend for pairing a famous sports person with an author to create series of books that kids – and particularly boys – will enjoy. The AFL did it. Rugby League has just popped out a series featuring Billy Slater (QUEENSLANDER!) and now Cricket Australia are at it.  The books feature loveable larrikin Davey Warner, who loves cricket and can’t get by without his beloved bat Kaboom, his best friend Sunil, and his stinky dog Max.

Let us stride confidently onto the pitch and face the first two balls from this new sporty series, shall we? *Richie Benaud impersonations optional*:

kaboom kid 1  kaboom kid 2

The Big Switch:

Davey Warner and his grade six friends are mad for cricket and just want to play it every moment of the day.  His team has a big game coming up against arch-rivals, Shimmer Bay, so they need to get in all the practice they can.  But when the boys end up in Mr Mudge’s class for this year they know they’ll have to tread carefully – old Mudge hates cricket and won’t allow any mention of it in his classroom. After a run in with class bully Mo Clouter leaves Davey in detention, it looks like all his practice time will be taken up picking up rubbish.  But Davey’s got a brand new trick up his sleeve that he thinks might win them the big match – if only he could get time to practise!

Playing Up:

Davey doesn’t mind practising with his big brother Steve, provided Steve gives up on his constant stream of advice about how Davey can improve his technique.  But Davey will put up with it for now – the selectors for the representative side are coming to Sandhill Flats and Davey wants to make sure that he and his lucky bat Kaboom give a performance that will impress.  When Davey plays a silly stunt in the classroom and Mr Mudge confiscates Kaboom, all his hopes of impressing the selectors goes up in smoke.  Davey cheers up a bit when Steve asks him to play up in the older boys’ team, but without Kaboom, Davey will probably mess that up too.  But Davey hasn’t counted on his teammates ability to band together when the chips are down.

Ah, cricket.  The gentlemans’ game.  The game that inexplicably requires players to stand for hours in the blazing, sunburn-inducing, melanoma-causing, sweaty, sweaty heat of an Australian summer.  Really, who’s idea was the last bit? Surely we would be better off playing cricket in winter. Anyway, you may have guessed by now that I am not the greatest fan of the game of cricket as a spectator sport.  I don’t mind playing it, but watching it is akin to having one’s skin peeled off in 1cm strips by teeny tiny wallpaper scrapers.  In my opinion, anyway.

BUT!

I actually got sucked into these books!

Yes!

I willingly read the first and quite happily picked up the second to continue Davey’s adventures.  And you know what? They actually turned out to be pretty fun little holiday reads! Amazing!  So here’s…..

Five Things I’ve Learned From….

The Kaboom Kid #1 and #2

1. Cricket is far more interesting to read about than to watch

2. The Australian selectors should probably consider including dogs as specialist fielders to improve the test side’s performance

3. Playing by the rules on the cricket pitch is non-negotiable. Playing by the rules in the classroom however, is entirely optional

4. A grumpy old teacher is almost always going to have a hidden passion for some obscure sport or activity that they will then attempt to force upon their students (possibly in response to learning #2)

5. It is actually possible to love cricket so much that you want to play it all the time…although as this is a work of fiction, I’m still not entirely convinced of this

Davey reads like a modern day Ginger Meggs, and the multicultural friendships and the feeling of the cricket lovers being “misunderstood” reminded me very much of that other Australian award-winning, cricket-based children’s novel, NIPS XI by Ruth Starke.  There’s a lot in the books that kids will enjoy – the boys get up to all kinds of hijinks and Davey’s stinky dog Max provides a plenty of comic relief.  I was a bit put off (having sat on the shelf of a few teachers in my time) by the casual blackmail applied by Davey’s team mates to his teacher Mr Mudge, in order to get back a bat that had been confiscated as a punishment for Davey breaking the rules in class.  Not quite sure what Warner is suggesting here, but one would have hoped that fair play in life is just as important as fair play on the cricket pitch.  I suspect kids won’t be beating themselves up over the ethics of that one, though.

The chapters and paragraphs are short and well-spaced and there are illustrations throughout, so the books are visually quite appealing, and not too overwhelming for younger or struggling readers.  The Aussie flavour and slang of the books will resonate nicely with those looking for a read from down our way and I found that you don’t have to know too much about cricket to be able to follow the action in the games.  (*Pointed aside* In fact, the whole first book is based around a trick shot from Davey that I thought was against the rules of cricket.  I have since discussed this with others who are more knowledgeable about the sport than I, and they agreed.  But unless David Warner contributed nothing to this book but his name on the cover, one would assume that  they would have got the rules of the game right and therefore we are all wrong. Input on this would be welcome from others who’ve read the book).

If you’ve got a cricket-mad (or just generally sports-mad) young person around your dwelling who is wandering around bleating about being bored this holidays, I can heartily recommend these first two of the Kaboom Kid series.  They’re quick reads that won’t cause any headaches from requiring too much, and will return plenty of enjoyment.

And they’re completely sun-safe. (Provided you read them in the shade. Or while wearing a broad-brimmed hat).

And they’d fit nicely in a Christmas stocking.

Just sayin’

I received a copy of these books (without even having to ask! They must have assumed that with a name like Bruce it would be unAustralian for me not to enjoy cricket) from Simon and Schuster Australia in return for an honest review.

Until next time,

Bruce