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.

The Appeal of Series Fiction – It All Begins in Childhood

I enjoy series fiction. Mostly crime series, it must be said. Whether it’s Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk trudging across the landscape in contemporary Australia, or Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy cruising the streets of Belfast during ‘The Troubles’, or C. J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake plying his legal trade on the equally dangerous streets of 16th century London, I’m there with them – book after book after book.

What is the appeal of series fiction? I have a hunch that, for me, it goes back to the series I devoured as a child. I grew up on a diet of Amelia Jane and the Bobbsey Twins before graduating to Pippi Longstocking and the Silver Brumby. (My persistent bristling at being told what to do can surely be laid at the feet of Astrid Lindgren and Elyne Mitchell.)

Series fiction, whether for children or older readers, is often dismissed as a lesser form of writing, just one peg above ‘pulp’ fiction (which also often runs in series, thereby being slammed with a double dose of snobbish disdain). Series fiction is reviewed less often and with less analytical rigour than standalone titles. A quick search of the Australian literature database, AustLit, reveals just 11 critical articles about series, and only a couple of dozen shorter newspaper columns on the same subject.

But even if the academy largely ignores series, publishers and readers don’t. Dipping into AustLit again, I find records for over 1,100 book series published in Australia since 2010. If publishers are accepting proposals for series in such large numbers, and taking them through the not inexpensive editing, publishing and distribution process, they must recognise a market for sales. Why are readers buying these books?

Why so popular?

Let’s go back again to children’s series. How many Australians, growing up in the middle decades of the 20th century, read Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong books or P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins titles? Perhaps they were fans of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five or favoured the American Stratemeyer Syndicate’s Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Maybe it was English translations of Asterix and Tintin that drew them in. Later in the century, along came the Baby-Sitters Club, Diary of Wimpy Kid and Goosebumps.

Cover images courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia

And just before the new millennium ticked over, Harry Potter turned up. His wizarding journey was published between 1997 and 2007. Has any other series generated the rapturous response afforded to the Hogwarts cohort?

UK academic and children’s literature specialist Victor Watson believes that reading series fiction ‘is not just an obsessive eccentricity’. It is, rather, central to our discovery of ‘the most important reading secret of all – that fiction can provide a complex variety of profoundly private pleasures, and that these pleasures are repeatable and entirely within the reader’s control’. We become friends, as Sydney-based teacher, editor and author Judith Ridge puts it, with characters who remain ‘reassuringly themselves from book to book’.

Transitioning from child reader to adult reader

And perhaps that is at the heart of why I still read series, both those written for adults and those intended for younger audiences. It is a private, repeatable pleasure in the reassuring company of familiar characters.

Cover image courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia

For children and adults alike, a book series creates a sense of connection – between author and reader, and between reader and character. Alongside the heartening familiarity is the buzz of expectation. In C. J. Sansom’s series, Matthew Shardlake has, so far, doggedly survived the rule of Henry VIII, and outlived both Cromwell and Cranmer. Now he faces new challenges under Elizabeth I’s reign. A book series couples predictability with anticipation.

There is also an element of control in reading a series. Young children might be facing upheavals and anxieties at home and school, they could be glimpsing uncertainties in the world at large. Within the pages of a book series, they can return again and again to a place of security. There is comfort in ‘the assurance that any problems that arise will be resolved in a satisfactory way’ (Ward and Young, ‘Engaging Readers through Series Books’). Is it so different for adult readers? I think not. Sean Duffy survives the bombs of the IRA and the machinations of the FBI in Adrian McKinty’s series. And Aaron Falk, despite his troubled and somewhat dysfunctional personal life, manages to apply his policing skills with insight and efficiency in Jane Harper’s series.

Cover image courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia

The distance between Pippi Longstocking and Sean Duffy is really not so far. I still enjoy the warm blanket of series fiction in a sometimes chilling world. And in case you’re wondering whether I’m excited that the seventh book in C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake series and the third in Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series are being published in October 2018 – you bet I am!

Share a Favourite

If you have memories of a favourite series that fostered your reading life, or if you’d like to recommend a series, please add your thoughts in a comment.

Links to series

Here are some of my favourite series from recent years. The list is alphabetical by author. Some of the series are suitable for children (*), some are for adult readers – all are cracking good yarns.

Image courtesy of Hachette Australia

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Other sources

  • AustLit: ‘an authoritative database about Australian literature and storytelling, with biographical and bibliographical information, full text, exhibitions and rich online content’.
  • For more about the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its many series (including the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew) visit the site ‘dedicated to the legacy of Edward Stratemeyer’.
  • Watson, Victor. Reading Series Fiction: From Arthur Ransome to Gene Kemp. London: Routledge Falmer, 2000.
  • Ridge, Judith, et al. ‘Series Fiction.’ Magpies: Talking about Books for Children 18.5 (2003): 10-12.
  • Ward, Barbara A., and A. Terrell Young. ‘What’s New in Children’s Literature?: Engaging Readers through Series Books.’ Reading Horizons. 48.1 (2007): 71-80.