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.

Feel the Beat in Books – Introducing Babies to Music

Music – for pleasure and enjoyment, for its role in child development, for its emotive possibilities, for its capacity to connect – belongs in every child’s life.

And books can play a part in introducing children to music, starting with their very first board books.

Think about the basic elements of music – beat (the underlying, repeating pulse), rhythm (the pattern of sound and silence into notes of different length), tempo (speed), pitch (the range of high and low notes), dynamics (the variety of loud and soft notes) and tonal colour (the quality of the sound). Now think about the way we use our voices when we read and tell stories aloud. Each of the musical elements can be – should be – present when we read out loud.

Beat (pulse)

The simplest way to start feeling the beat in books is with nursery rhymes.

If you recite ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ to yourself, you’ll notice it has a straightforward 4/4 beat: Twin (1) – kle (2), twin (3) – kle (4), lit (1) – tle (2) star (3, 4), how (1) I (2) won (3) – der (4) what (1) you (2) are (3, 4).

‘Twinkle, Twinkle, little star’ (Traditional)

Whether you say the words or sing them, feel the underlying pulse. Babies are already familiar with a regular beat – they’ve been listening to their mother’s heartbeat in the womb.

Rhythm (pattern)

Adding some variety to a steady beat introduces rhythm.

Board books sometimes adapt traditional songs to give them a localised or more modern flavour while still maintaining the rhythm of the original. Matt Shanks’ Old MacDonald Had a Farm, for example, puts a twist on the usual collection farm animals by replacing them with Australian fauna. The emu has a peck-peck here and a peck-peck there. Here a peck, there a peck, everywhere a peck-peck!

Old MacDonald Had a Farm (2020)

Some of words in Old MacDonald’s rhythm maintain a steady, even beat, but then there’s a longer note on the ‘O’ of Ei-I-Ei-I-O and plenty of shorter notes when the emu starts pecking. Now there’s a rhythm overlaying the beat.

Tempo (speed)

Let’s change it up some more by varying the speed at which the words in a book are read.

Incorporating tempo into books for the very young is not always easy, but one book that achieves it with gusto is British author, and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, an adaptation of old American folk song.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is a simple ‘there and back again’ tale – a family leaves on an outing, reaches its goal and returns home – but the obstacles encountered along the way change the pace at which the text is read.

The tempo is relaxed on the outward journey although trekking through the long wavy grass is quicker than squelching through the thick oozy mud. On the way home, with a bear in pursuit, the storytelling speeds up and the text is read at a headlong, rushing pace.

The evocative travelling sounds from the outward journey, like Tiptoe! Tiptoe! Tiptoe! (through the cave), and Stumble trip! Stumble trip! Stumble Trip! (through the forest) and Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! Squelch squerch! (through the mud) lend themselves to both slow, drawn-out readings on the first encounter and fast, rapid-fire renderings on the return trip.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (1993, 2015)

Pitch (high/low)

Adding pitch to rhythm creates the melody.

Where Is the Green Sheep?, by multi-award winning South Australian Mem Fox (text) and gifted artist and cartoonist Judy Horacek (illustrations), creates multiple opportunities for pitch variation.

When reading the text for the up sheep and the down sheep, you’ll easily recognise where to pitch your voice.

Where Is the Green Sheep? (2006)

It’s important to ‘read’ the clues in the illustrations as well as the words in the text.

Judy Horacek’s train sheep is pictured in a carriage with an animal menagerie. Does the dog make a high-pitched, yappy sound or a low-pitched growl? Does the cat purr contentedly in a lower register or spit and snarl higher up the scale?

Where Is the Green Sheep? (2006)

And what about the swing sheep and the slide sheep? Imagine the slippery, slide-y sound of a trombone and stretch out the words out as you read. The words swing sheep might start low and rise higher, the words slide sheep could sound from high to low, matching the sheep’s descent.

Dynamics (loud/soft)

As a music primer in board book form, Where Is the Green Sheep? truly ‘tops the charts’. In addition to its in-built melody (based on a regular, repeating rhythm and the opportunities to create pitch variation), it lends itself to choice in dynamics.

Judy Horacek’s multi-talented band sheep plays the drums, the tuba, the guitar and the xylophone giving the reader a chance to use a range of voices.

Where Is the Green Sheep? (2006)

Perhaps the drum will be loud and thumping; the tuba low and throbbing; the guitar gently lilting; and the xylophone quietly tinkling.

The scared sheep might be read with a squeaky tremolo and the brave sheep with a booming confidence.

And, at the story’s end, the tempo slows and the text instructs the reader to Turn the page quietly. In a hushed voice, the reader closes with: Here’s our green sheep, fast asleep.

Tonal Colour (sound quality)

Darwin-based Nick Bland’s The Very Noisy Bear (part of his larger Cranky Bear series) sees Bear wakened from his hibernating sleep in the Jingle Jangle Forest. One by one, the other animals offer Bear the chance to try their instruments (on which they are, seemingly, quite proficient). Bear bangs and bashes on the drums, strums wildly on the guitar, and screeches on the trumpet.

The ‘quality’ of sound produced by Bear generates a mass exodus of animals. Eventually, sheep wonders:

Have you ever tried a microphone? It’s just a simple thing.

You only have to hold it up, clear your throat and sing!

Accompanied by the jungle band, Bear’s earlier cacophonous sounds transform into a vocal performance that leaves the audience calling for more.

The Very Noisy Bear (2016)

The Very Noisy Bear is a reminder that instruments can be played in different ways. Each one can produce sounds in a variety of tones (some pleasing; some … not so much). Reading Bland’s Bear book, you can make as many ‘unmusical’ sounds as you like. You’re limited only by your imagination.

You don’t need a formal qualification to introduce music to children. Just like Bear, if you have a voice, you have an instrument – play away!

Links and Sources

There are a number of ways to delineate the basic elements of music. I have used the elements listed by Amanda Niland in Music and Children (2015), a book written for Early Childhood Australia.

The books mentioned in this blog post are all suitable for children in the 0–3 age group. As children grow towards pre-school age, the range of music-themed books expands and the storytelling incorporates a further musical element – harmony.

Meerkat Choir (2017)

You can start exploring the harmonic aspect of music with Nicki Greenberg’s madcap Meerkat Choir (2017).

If you want to move on to orchestration and the emotional riches of music, try Clare McFadden’s Crichton Award-winning The Flying Orchestra (2010, 2017).

The Flying Orchestra (2017)

Image sources:

  • ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’, from Merrily, Merrily: A Book of Songs and Rhymes. Nursing Mothers Association of Australia: Hawthorn, Vic., 1979
  • Old MacDonald Had a Farm by Matt Shanks (text and illus.). Scholastic Australia: Gosford, NSW, 2020
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen (text) and Helen Oxenbury (illus.). Walker Books Australia: Newtown, NSW, 2015
  • Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (text) and Judy Horacek (illus.). Walker Books Australia: Newtown, NSW, 2006
  • The Very Noisy Bear by Nick Bland (text and illus.). Scholastic Australia: Gosford, NSW, 2016
  • Meerkat Choir by Nicki Greenberg (text and illus.). Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, NSW, 2017
  • The Flying Orchestra by Clare McFadden (text and illus.). University of Queensland Press: St Lucia, Qld, 2017
  • Conga Dance by Amanda Tarlau (text) and Jane Chapman (illus.). Scholastic Australia: Gosford, NSW, 2016
Conga Dance (2016)