Cricket Books for Aussie Kids

How’s your ramp coming along? Spotted a good ‘jaffa’ lately? Enjoy hanging out at ‘cow corner’? No, I’m not talking house construction, confectionery or farming. I’m talking cricket – batting shots, bowling deliveries, fielding positions.

Cricket has a language all its own and part of the delight in reading about cricket is discovering new words and meanings. Cricket-themed children’s books can also entice reluctant readers to spend some time between the pages, especially when their cricketing heroes are front and centre.

This selection of books for children will appeal to those who are already cricket fans – be they young or old – and they may help steer the uninitiated toward cricket appreciation.

Books are listed under the following headings: Picture Books, Younger Readers, Middle Grade Readers and Non-fiction. Titles of book series are bolded; titles of standalone books are italicised. Links will usually go to the book publisher’s website. Most books listed are in print at the time of writing; those that are not can often be found in public libraries.

Please note: age recommendations are a guide only.

Picture Books

It’s never too early to start…

Grug Plays Cricket (2009), Ted Prior (text and illus.) Ages: 2+

With trademark simplicity, Ted Prior conjures a cricketing experience for his shaggy creation in Grug Plays Cricket. Grug invites Cara the snake to play. The pitch and scoreboard are readied. Grug and Cara take turns at batting and bowling. There are a couple of impressive catches. The end.

What’s not to love about Grug!

Cara ’catches’ the ball, Grug Plays Cricket

The 12th Dog (2017), Charlotte Calder (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 3+

A humorous tale, The 12th Dog tells the story of Arlo (the 12th dog of the title) who has a habit of catching the ball and not returning it. All is forgiven the day he hurtles into the stumps and runs Holly out. Well, almost all, he still has some unreturned balls tucked away.

Arlo’s stash of unreturned balls, The 12th Dog

Cricket, I Just Love It! (2021), Alister Nicholson (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 4+

As an ABC Grandstand cricket commentator, Alister Nicholson has been at the forefront of women’s cricket coverage, and it’s good to see girls receive equal billing in the text of Cricket, I Just Love It! and in Jellett’s action-packed illustrations. Pictures also include children from a mix of ethnic backgrounds, plus one young lad who takes on the game from his wheelchair.

Cricket, I Just Love It! is a rollicking romp through some of the sport’s big names (Lanning and Perry, Bradman and Ponting), its iconic emblems (the baggy green), and its idiosyncratic nomenclature (jaffas, ducks, bunnies). Most of all, it’s about playing the game and having fun.

Visit publisher Allen & Unwin’s website to listen to the book being read by Nicholson.

‘Cricket, I work at it!’, Cricket, I Just Love It!

Over Is Out (2018), Lachlan Creagh and Sarah Creagh (text), Lachlan Creagh (illus.) Ages: 4+

Over Is Out plays on a common backyard cricket rule: ‘over the fence is out’. In the Creaghs’ story, the ball sails into the neighbour’s yard and one young cricketer is sent to retrieve it. Unfortunately for him, the neighbours are dinosaurs. The book utilises the ‘there and back again’ narrative as the young batter scampers around the neighbour’s yard, seeking the ball among a variety of dinosaurs. He makes a quick exit as T-Rex stirs.

There’s some clever humour in the ending to this delightful tale in which the illustrations combine effectively with the text to ‘tell the story’.

‘I think he wants to play!’, Over Is Out

Howzat! (2014), Mike Lefroy (text), Liz Anelli (illus.) Ages: 5+

A rhyming story that skips around the globe. The opening and closing endpapers show maps of the story’s route through twelve countries, and double-page illustrations throughout the book provide plenty of country-specific context. The Australian scene (I think at Bondi Beach) includes a ubiquitous ute, surf lifesaving flags and a streaker. The final illustration is a joyous melange of cricketing fans and players from across the world.

This book is currently out of print, but I hope there are copies in many school and public libraries. Liz Anelli’s illustrations are a real joy. Teaching resources are available via Walker Books website.

Cricket’s ‘United Nations’, Howzat!

Maxx Rumble (2004–2005, re-published 2012–2013), Michael Wagner (text), Terry Denton (illus.) Ages: 6+

Michael Wagner has created three sports-themed series featuring young Maxx Rumble – two are football-based (Australian Rules football and soccer) and the third is Maxx Rumble: Cricket. Each cricket book is packed with the characters’ flair for imagination and hyperbole (matched by Terry Denton’s madcap illustrations) and the variation in font size suits beginning readers who are getting used to chapter books. The eight cricket titles are available separately or in one omnibus edition (although the physical size of the latter may be daunting for young readers).

Merv was ‘out like a light’ in the field – Maxx Rumble, Book 5, Hammered!

Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the Real First Eleven (2016), Mark Greenwood (text), Terry Denton (illus.) Ages: 7+

Boomerang and Bat tells the story of the first Australian cricket team to tour England – a team comprising Aboriginal players coached by English cricketer and Australian settler Charles Lawrence. Based on solid historical research, Greenwood’s text incorporates the challenges, discrimination and griefs that beset the touring team including the refusal of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines to allow the team to leave Australia (Lawrence smuggled them out) and the death in England of batter King Cole (Bripumyarrimin).

Detailed teaching resources available via Allen & Unwin’s website.

‘“We’re sick for our country,” said Johnny’, Boomerang and Bat

Knockabout Cricket: A Story of Sporting Legend – Johnny Mullagh (2014), Neridah McMullin (text), Ainsley Walters (illus.) Ages: 8+

A picture book for older children, Knockabout Cricket interweaves factual information about Aboriginal cricketer Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin) with a fictional re-creation of his introduction to the game. The fictional account is told from the perspective of a squatter’s son; the factual account provides the story of Mullagh’s participation in what was probably the first Boxing Day match played at the MCG and his subsequent selection in the first Aboriginal team to tour England.

(Since 2020, six years after the publication of Knockabout Cricket, the Mullagh Medal has been presented to the player of the match in the MCG’s Boxing Day Test. The first recipient was India’s Ajinkya Rahane; in 2021, the medal went to Australian fast bowler Scott Boland, a Gulidjan man.)

Teaching resources for Knockabout Cricket are available via the author’s website.

Johnny Mullagh takes a catch, Knockabout Cricket

Younger Readers

Most cricket-themed books for younger readers are part of a larger series where cricket is generally the focus of just one book among a broader range of sports-themed titles. The series (not all listed here) tend to feature male protagonists with girls, when present, taking on minor roles. Happily, recent publications are beginning to address this imbalance.

Sporty Kids: Cricket (2016), Felice Arena (text), Tom Jellett (illus.) Ages: 6+

Part of Felice Arena and Tom Jellett’s Sporty Kids series, this story features the annual neighbourhood cricket match between the Karim and Petersson families. The match is in doubt when Pete Karim’s parents are unable to play so Pete calls up his Grandpa (complete with walking frame), his two friends Abby and Angus, and his dog Warnie. It’s game on!

‘“Six!’ yelled Grandpa.’ – Sporty Kids, Cricket

Mighty Mitch (2017–2019), Mitchell Starc and Tiffany Malins (text), Philip Bunting (illus.) Ages: 7+

Mitchell Starc teams up with Tiffany Malins and Philip Bunting to create a funny, fast-paced series featuring mixed gender, multicultural cricket teams. Told from a first-person viewpoint, the Mighty Mitch stories focus on the Wander Hill Wombats Under-10s team. Mitch’s mate Joshua Camilleri is the archetypal prankster and mischief maker, injecting humour and unpredictability into each story.

The books include some insider jokes (e.g. a character named Hayden Matthews and a cricket trophy called ‘The Cinders’). All books include a diagram of fielding positions and batting shots, along with a list of cricketing terms and their meanings.

‘Howzat!’ – Mighty Mitch, Book 5, Day Night Decider

Middle Grade Readers

As with books for younger readers, those aimed at the middle grade reader (8–12 years) tend to be published in series. Individual books range from about 140 to 200 pages in length. Just like the books for beginning readers, there is a preponderance of male authors (with a couple of notable exceptions).

The Kaboom Kid (2014–2017), Dave Warner with J V McGee and J S Black (text), Jules Faber (illus.) Ages: 8+

The eight-book series The Kaboom Kid is narrated in the third person by protagonist Davey Warner, an 11-year-old, left-handed batter who plays for the Sandhill Sluggers. His friends include best mate Sunil Deep and his bat, nicknamed ‘Kaboom’. Davey’s regular adversaries are Shimmer Bay’s captain, Josh Jarrett (aka Mr Perfect), and the school bully Mo Clouter.

The lightly illustrated, large print books are available in omnibus editions: Crazy for Cricket includes books 1–4; Hitting It Home includes books 5–8.

Davey Warner’s bedroom – The Kaboom Kid, Book 1, The Big Switch

Big Bash League (2016–2017), Michael Panckridge (text), James Fosdike (illus.) Ages: 8+

For fans of the men’s (BBL) and women’s (WBBL) Big Bash Leagues, Panckridge’s books offer neat tie-ins between young players (fictional) and the teams they support (both BBL and WBBL). Five of the eight books in the series feature cricketing tips and information, along with team and player statistics for BBL and WBBL teams. The statistics (e.g. Best results, Highest individual score) are, necessarily, only accurate up to the date of publication.

The books are set in the various cities around Australia that host a Big Bash team and the cast of characters is new for each book. At least one girl and one boy appear on the cover of each book and this gender parity is generally reflected in the stories.

‘I barrack for the Brisbane Heat’ – Big Bash League, Book 2, Captains’ Clash

Ellyse Perry (2016–2017), Ellyse Perry and Sherryl Clark (text), Jeremy Lord (illus.) Ages: 8+

In the only series (to date) by one of Australia’s women cricketers, Ellyse Perry teams up with established children’s author Sherryl Clark in a four-book series. The first book, Pocket Rocket, starts with Ellyse embarking on life at secondary school. Small for her age, she is dismissed by the school’s cricket coach but the determined youngster, with dedicated support from her father, persists with her sporting ambitions and is eventually rewarded. Book four in the series, Double Time, concentrates on the clash Ellyse experiences when wanting to play both cricket and soccer. (Perry has represented Australia at national level in both sports.)

A feature of all four books is the growing and changing bond between Ellyse and her school friends, emblematic of the often fractious relationships among adolescent girls.

Cover images, Ellyse Perry titles

Nips XI and Nips Go National (2000, 2003), Ruth Starke (text) Ages: 8+

First published in 2000, Nips XI remains in print due to the quality of Ruth Starke’s storytelling. Starke, an award-winning children’s author, knew nothing about cricket when began her two-book series but the first book, Nips XI, went on to receive an honourable mention in the UNESCO Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance (for readers under 13 years of age).

Nips XI and its sequel Nips Go National centre on Lan Nguyen and his friends from North Illaba Primary School – hence the seemingly racist acronym NIPS. Lan and his ethnically diverse classmates form a cricket team in an endeavour to be accepted as genuine Australians. They manage to acquire the services of a coach, an ex-Australian spin bowler, who instils in his charges both the principles and ethics of the game.

Nips XI culminates in a match between the Nips and the highly fancied Kings School. Who wins? According to the Nips coach, ‘the game won’ (p.223).

Teaching resources available from Hachette.

Cover image, Nips XI, courtesy of Hachette

Toby Jones (2006–2007, 2008–2009), Michael Panckridge and Brett Lee (text) Ages: 10+

Author Michael Panckridge combines with Australian fast bowler Brett Lee to create this time slip series. The point of departure for each of the five books is match recorded in the ‘cricket bible’, Wisden. Each title includes Lee’s cricket tips and summaries of selected games, for example, the 1960 tied test between Australia and the West Indies.

Originally published as five separate books, the stories in the Toby Jones series were later published in two omnibus editions, Hat Trick (2008) and HowZat! (2009).

Cover images, Tony Jones titles

Glenn Maxwell (2014–2015), Patrick Loughlin (text), James Hart (illus.) Ages: 10+

True confessions time: this series is my personal favourite among the Middle Grade readers.

Most of the series developed by renowned cricketers (whether as writers, ghost-writers or consultants) re-create the cricketer’s life as a young, up-and-coming player. Patrick Loughlin instead casts Glenn Maxwell as a coach and guide to young (fictional) players.

In the Glenn Maxell series, 12-year-old Will Albright, a Melbourne boy, first tries out for squad selection at the Victorian T20 Youth Academy. (He is, of course, successful, or there would be no more books.) Will progresses to the State T20 team, then the national team and, finally, captains the internationally touring Youth World Cup team.

Along the way, Will has two constant friends: fellow boys’ team member Shavil Kumar and the capable (and, to Will, increasingly attractive) Zoe Jarrett, a member of the corresponding girls’ team.

Glen Maxwell pops up throughout the books, offering Will wise tips and sound guidance gleaned from his own longstanding cricket career. In Academy All-Stars, for instance, when Will is struggling as an opening batter, and in danger of losing his spot in the team, Maxwell suggests the young player add spin bowling to his repertoire: ‘sometimes you have to find out how to fit into the team, not how to make the team fit you’ (108).

‘“Lucky shot,” said Zoe’ – Glenn Maxwell, Book 2, Academy All-Stars

Non-fiction

Most of the cricketers involved in the creation of children’s fiction series attest to the influence of non-fiction cricket books during their developmental years in the sport. Today, an increasing number of current and ex-players turn their hand to autobiographies, targeted at adult audiences. There is not a similarly large choice of books aimed at the children’s market. Then again, maybe one really good book is all that’s required…

A History of Cricket (2011), Catherine Chambers Ages: 12+

Chambers begins her book this way: ‘Cricket just has to be the mightiest, most noble game. The pinnacle of all physical, mental and emotional tests’ (1). The reader is in no doubt where the author’s sympathy lies!

A History of Cricket is packed with information. Some chapters focus on the development of the game in a particular country (e.g. ‘ India: The Jewel in the Cricket Crown’), others have a thematic focus (e.g. ‘Women’s Cricket’, ‘Batting Greats’). There is little coverage of the West Indies or the African cricket-playing nations but, apart from that, almost every aspect of the game is covered with break out boxes providing greater detail about some of cricket’s exceptional players, and ample information on the different formats of the game, bowling terms and fielding positions.

Chambers doesn’t overlook the role of umpires – a vital, but often ignored element in children’s books. She also incorporates some wonderful quips from cricket commentators and authors. English broadcaster Henry Blofeld is quoted as saying: ‘One-day cricket is an exhibition. Test cricket is an examination.’ I’ll give the last word to American comedian Groucho Marx, unaccustomed to the nuances of cricket, who, after staring at a match for a very long time asked: ‘So when does it begin?’

Entry for Glenn McGrath, A History of Cricket

Links and Sources

My thanks to the National Library of Australia and the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Library Service. All books listed are held at one or both of these libraries.

Gleanings from #HNSA2021

Another conference shifts from the physical to the virtual. More dodgy internet connections, more barking dogs and chattering children, more partners crouching in screen backdrops, more collective groans.

Hang on. Just back up a minute.

Not everyone feels that way. Let’s be honest: a virtual conference is an introvert’s dream. I know many people are chafing at the bit, desperate to return to in-person gatherings, but I’m not one of them. For introverts like me, a virtual conference is, as Mary Poppins would say, ‘practically perfect in every way’.

Not only do I avoid travel and accommodation costs, I also avoid actual people. No more standing in solitary isolation at break times admonishing myself for my anti-social preferences, no more repeat visits to the conference bookshop to avoid conversations with strangers, no more disappearing outdoors on the pretext of needing some fresh air.

For me, virtual has much to recommend it. And the 2021 Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) conference, held online for the first time, did not disappoint.

The conference theme was Recovery: Restoring, Reconciling and Re-imagining Lost Histories. My conference gleanings fall into two further ‘Re-’ categories: Research and Realism.

Research: Resources for Writers

How do historical fiction writers discover what Sydney’s Liverpool St looked like in 1909 when Foy’s department store moved there from Oxford St?

How do they know what food was served on the SS Great Britain when she sailed away from Liverpool in 1871, bound for Hobson’s Bay, and with Anthony Trollope on board?

How do they find out whether buttons were used in everyday clothing in 13th century England?

Authors at the HNSA conference proffered their favourite tips and resources and, because they were speaking from their own homes, they could readily pluck items in hard copy from their shelves for ‘show and tell’. Here are some of the resources recommended at the conference:

Dictionaries and Thesauri

Geraldine Brooks held aloft her weighty, two-volume Historical Thesaurus of the OED. The thesaurus ‘works as a taxonomic index of language history … it is not just for looking up synonyms – instead, it can be used to explore the different words used for a particular meaning over time’. You can take a 15-minute virtual tour of the thesaurus to learn more.

While the first edition of the thesaurus was published in print format, the second edition is available here. Perhaps your protagonist is strolling through the English countryside in 1150 admiring the Spring blossom on a crab apple tree but, wait, was it called a crab apple back then? The answer, according to the historical thesaurus? It was a wergulu or a wuduaeppel or a wudusuræppel. (I do love a thesaurus.)

Screenshot from the Historical Thesaurus of the OED

Images

Kelly Rimmer recommends looking at photos to understand an era. I would add that, (pre- and post-photography), paintings and newspaper illustrations are another way of getting a feel for a setting and a society.

Tom Roberts (1885). Bourke Street, Melbourne

Think of the 16th century games depicted in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Children’s Games or the activity in late 19th century Melbourne in Tom Roberts’ Bourke Street.

Trove

Catherine Jinks calls Trove ‘a miracle’.

Trove combines the collections of Australian libraries, universities, museums, galleries and archives. Many of its resources are digitised including newspapers (mostly up to the early 1950s), Government Gazettes, maps, pictures, photographs, music, letters and interviews.

Reference Works

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth likes to ‘deep dive’ into the social history of the eras she writes about. How do you know where/how people went to the toilet in a particular historical period? Kate uses reference books like Sally Magnusson’s Life of Pee: The Story of How Urine Got Everywhere.

Experts and Scholars

Alli Sinclair lauds the knowledge of experts and scholars. Her experience in writing The Codebreakers was that experts want to share their knowledge. Professional associations and university departments are a good place to start when tracking down specialists.

Alli Sinclair

Aggregated Data Sets

Jock Serong recommends the Google Books Ngram Viewer. Enter a word or phrase into the viewer to see its occurrence in a corpus of books over a period of time.

For example, if your characters are meeting for a sexual liaison in World War I Sydney, it’s unlikely to have taken place in a motel room – the word ‘motel’ does not start appearing in books until the mid- to late 1940s.

You Tube

Kate Kruimink suggests YouTube as a way to hear the music of a particular historical period.

For her novel A Treacherous Country, in which her young protagonist sails from England to Van Diemen’s Land, she listened to recordings of sea shanties via YouTube. (Captain Halyard has multiple compilations of sea shanties and folk songs on YouTube. You can get a taste of them here.)

Jock Serong and Kate Kruimink

Cartoons

Mirandi Riwoe suggests cartoons as a source for discovering what people were really thinking.

An example highlighted by Riwoe is The Bulletin’s 1886 depiction Chinese people. Phil May’s cartoon (complete with a recognisable Henry Lawson smoking opium) is titled ‘The Mongolian Octopus: His Grip on Australia’ and it encapsulates The Bulletin’s and the wider community’s attitude in the late 19th century.

Phil May. ‘The Mongolian Octopus: His Grip on Australia’. The Bulletin, 21 August 1886, pp.12-13.

Fieldwork

Despite the extraordinary array of resources available today – both online and in hard copy – nothing beats research ‘on the ground’.

In yet another impact of COVID19, more than one HNSA conference panellist revealed cancelled plans for research trips to overseas destinations during 2020 and 2021. Expect 2022s international flights to be crammed with historical novelists.

Realism: Historical Authenticity and Accuracy

How do historical novelists balance detailed research with captivating fiction? Because, as Sue Williams succinctly puts it, ‘readers don’t want to read the research’.

Perhaps writing historical fiction is a bit like being on a seesaw. The author begins with the seesaw weighted down on the side of research but finishes with the story solidly on the ground and the research sitting lightly in the air.

The Seesaw. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

And it needs to be remembered that the historical record is both incomplete and subjective. It can only take the novelist so far.

An incomplete record ‘recovered by the imagination’

During her conference workshop Research and Fieldwork, Mirandi Riwoe referenced Hilary Mantel’s take on historical fiction: 99.9% of human activity never makes it onto the record and ‘can only be recovered by the imagination’ (History Extra, 28 July 2020).

The fiction writer, says Steven Carroll, needs to ‘take history by the hand and lead it into the land of supposition’.

Steven Carroll

The subjectivity of history

Travelling into the land of supposition offers the novelist scope to remove some of the filters entrenched in the written record.

Pip Williams

Pip Williams reminds us that ‘it’s wrong to think that history is true and fiction is not’.

Non-fiction writing is subjective; historians and eyewitnesses write from (often unacknowledged or unrecognised) perspectives.

Historical fiction is important, says Williams, because the ‘official’ record is often inadequate to answer the questions we’ve got about history. It doesn’t necessarily tell us the ‘why’; the novelist can posit a thesis. As Carroll puts it, we need to ‘invent a doorway’ to do the things that history cannot.

Here’s an example.

In the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the words of women are largely missing. Where are the words of the scullery and the birthing room, asks Williams?

If those words were not found in a written source, they were omitted from the dictionary. Even the words that are included are generally sourced from the writings of male authors, and then filtered through the minds and morals of male editors and male lexicographers.

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Williams invented a doorway. In The Dictionary of Lost Words, she breathes life into the words that fell through history’s cracks.

Remembering

On a sombre note, Kelly Gardiner reminded conference participants of the deaths in 2020 of esteemed authors Jesse Blackadder and Liz Corbett.

The HNSA has established a mentorship in Corbett’s name. The mentorship, ‘for a previously unpublished author from Australia or New Zealand’, will help an author develop an unpublished historical fiction manuscript for young adults.

Julie Janson – Keynote Address

It would be remiss of me not to mention Julie Janson’s keynote conference address. (It was the only session where I missed being physically present in the conference room with other people. I’m sure I wasn’t the only virtual attendee who clapped at the end of the address.)

Janson, a Burruberongal woman of the Darug people, and a playwright, novelist and poet, took as her theme ‘the role and responsibility of historical novelists in recovering lost, overlooked or deliberately erased histories’. She asked whether the genre could ‘play a part in achieving truth in reconciliation’.

Janson concluded her address by suggesting three specific measures to aid reconciliation: change the Australian flag, change the national anthem and change the date of Australia Day.

Links and Sources

If you were unable to attend the conference but would like to know more, the online recordings will be made accessible, for a fee, for a limited time. Check the HNSA website for details.

Conference sessions

The following sessions from the 2021 HNSA conference are referenced in this post:

Other Authors and Books

Images