At 7.20 pm on Thursday, 24 March, the AFL Premiership season will kick off at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. As this new season approaches, I’ve been on the lookout for children’s books about Australian Rules football (also known as Aussie Rules).
Before I get onto the results of my search, I had best make a disclosure: I am a Carlton supporter, born and bred. I was a junior member of the club in the late 1960s. I knitted my own team jumper (dark navy, 8 ply wool) and, using linen from an old bed sheet that was beyond even my mother’s prodigious mending skills, stitched the club’s CFC logo on the front and a number 2 on the back. When the finals series rolled around (and Carlton always featured prominently in those bygone days), I made my own game day ‘floggers’—a combination of wooden dowelling, strips of crepe paper and ludicrous amounts of sticky tape. I was at the MCG in 1970 when Ted Hopkins led Carlton’s mighty grand final comeback against Collingwood. (With the Blues 44 points in arrears, I made the bold and unjustifiable half-time declaration: ‘it’s all right, we’re going to win’. I failed to comprehend why Carlton fans around me looked murderous.)
Anyway, this blog post is about books for children, not my childhood and teenage memories, so … moving right along.
Aussie Rules-themed children’s books come in a variety of guises. There are ‘readers’ designed for the primary school education market and multi-author series commissioned by publishing houses. There are single-author series and stand-alone fiction titles. And there are picture books. (There are also commercial non-fiction books, and promotional books sponsored by individual clubs, but I am not going to look at those in this post.)
Starting with books for the education market, Indij Readers publishes three titles that feature Australian Rules football: Michael O’Loughlin: Inside the Sydney Swans (series one), All the Questions You Ever Wanted To Ask Adam Goodes (series two), and Dreamtime at the ‘G’ (series three).
I haven’t tracked down a series of readers that focuses purely on Aussie Rules; let me know if you are aware of one. Among Australia’s major education market publishers, Macmillan has an excellent series on Rugby League; Pearson has books about Rugby Union; and Oxford University Press (OUP) favours Soccer (a game I, admittedly irrationally, refuse to call ‘Football’), but Australian Rules offerings are modest. Macmillan, Pearson and OUP each publish one Australian Rules non-fiction title—respectively, Australian Rules, All About AFL and Aussie Rules.
Penguin’s Aussie Bites and Aussie Nibbles series each include an Australian Rules-themed title. Look out forThe Newtown Tigers by Michael Wagner (Aussie Nibbles) and Save Our Sharks by David Metzenthen (Aussie Bites). Both are suitable for ages 8+.
The eight books in Felice Arena‘s series centre on the travails of Simon “Specky” Magee, ‘an Aussie Rules football champion in the making’. (The books are also available as audio books, narrated by ‘Voice of the G’ Stig Wemyss, from Bolinda Audio.)
If you’re not an Aussie Rules follower and are wondering about Simon Magee’s nickname, a ‘specky’ is a spectacular mark. The best specky of all time (well, of the 20th century, at least) was Alex Jesaulenko’s mark in the 1970 Grand Final. (Not that I’m biased in any way.) In case you missed it, or if you just love re-watching it, you can see it here. And if you want to know why Felice Arena became a Geelong supporter, instead of following the family tradition and barracking for Collingwood, you’ll find the answer on his blog.)
Arena has also included a book about Aussie Rules, titled simply Footy!, in his Sporty Kids series.
The nine books in Michael Wagner‘s series play on children’s capacity for exaggeration. Maxx Rumble’s deeds on the footy field are simply extraordinary—just ask him. Maxx also plays cricket and soccer (how does he fit it all in?) and Wagner has diligently recorded his feats in those sports, too. All the books are illustrated by Terry Denton, a man whose wicked sense of humour can match anything Maxx (and Wagner) can conjure.
Former Hawthorn player and Brownlow medallist Shane Crawford has co-written an eight-book series with TV producer Adrian Beck. The series centres on Nick (captain of the beleaguered Cobar Creek Crocs), Bruiser and Ella. All three are ‘massive footy fans’ who ‘live and breathe AFL’. You’ll find the website for the series here.
Other author series include:
- Fox Swift, written by David Lawrence with Cyril Rioli (Slattery Media). Ages 9+
- AFL Footy Kids by Lorraine Wilson (featuring one title for each AFL club) (Puffin). Ages 5+
- Change the Game. Aussie Rules Adventures by Michael Hyde (Hardie Grant Egmont). Ages 9+
- AFL Kids by Michael Sedunary (one dedicated title for each AFL club) (SportsKids Productions) Ages 5+
The latter two series are apparently both still in print, but neither feature on their respective publisher’s websites. Copies may be hard to come by.
Single or ‘Stand Alone’ Titles
‘Stand alone’ titles about Australian Rules tend to be aimed at older children, those in the upper primary and lower secondary age groups. Subject matter might include social issues such as racism and sexism.
Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde (Ford Street Publishing). Ages 11+
Set in a country town, Footy Dreaming follows the fortunes of Ben and Noah. Besides competing against each other, the boys have to contend with small town politics, family animosities and racism.
Top Marks by Raewyn Caisley (Hachette). Ages 11+
Caisley’s Top Marks is played out against the backdrop of the relationship between Jack and his grandfather (and coach), and the concept of team before individual.
Still Kicking by Cheryl Critchley (Hachette). Ages 11+
Journalist Cheryl Critchley introduces her readers to Sam Scott. Sam is a 13-year-old girl with a passion for Australian Rules football—not watching the game, playing it— and she faces prejudice from her peers and the sport’s administrators alike.
Although not all picture books are written for very young audiences, these Aussie Rules-themed books are suitable for children in the under-six age group.
Marngrook by Titta Secombe, illustrated by Grace Fielding (Magabala Books). ‘Based on the sometimes controversial theory of how Australian Rules Football developed from “marngrook”, a ball game played by Aboriginal people in north west Victoria more than 150 years ago’.
Kick with My Left Foot by Paul Seden, illustrated by Karen Briggs (Allen & Unwin)
Jackson’s Footy by Dwayne Russell, illustrated by Donna Gynell (Slattery Media)
I Love Footy! written and illustrated by Matt Zurbo (Windy Hollow Books)
Captain Kangaroo and the Footy Final written and illustrated by Mandy Foot (Hachette)
Why I Love Footy by Michael Wagner, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Penguin)
And if a lift-the-flap book is more your style, try AFL Where’s My Football? by Daron Parton (Penguin).
That brings me to the end of my meanderings through Aussie Rules books for children. If you are aware of any books I have missed, please share them via the ‘comments’ function.
Happy reading, and may Carlton win more games this season than in 2015!
(Note: My football loyalties are now divided between Australian Rules and Rugby League. A blog post on Rugby League books for children will follow in coming weeks.)
Links and Sources
- The titles I’ve mentioned in this post should be in print and available for purchase. For older, out-of-print titles, check my list on Trove Australia under the following heading: Australian Rules Football_Children’s Literature (fiction). Books on this list may be still available in public and school libraries, or for purchase via second hand book stores.
- Because I’ve focused on books for children, I haven’t included novels for young adult readers. If you’re interested in YA books, I’ve created a Trove list under the heading Australian Rules Football_Adolescent Fiction. You’ll find titles like Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna?, Nicole Hayes’ The Whole of My World and Michael Hyde’s Tyger, Tyger on this list.
- For other forms of writing about Aussie Rules (poetry, plays, biographies, etc), try searching AustLit, an authoritative database about Australian literature. As of March 2016, AustLit lists over 500 works with the subject ‘Australian Rules Football’.
- And if you’re interested in what happened to Ted Hopkins after he launched the Carlton revival in the 1970 grand final: he published a few books of poetry during the 1980s and then, in 1995, he founded Champion Data which went on to became the official supplier of statistics for the Australian Football League. You can read Hopkins’ own story in The Stats Revolution.