Review Blog

Sep 19 2014

Do you dare? series

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Puffin, 2014
1836: Fighting Bones by Sophie Laguna. ISBN 9780143307556.
1844: The Last Horse Race by James Moloney. ISBN 9780143307822.
(Age: Yr 3+) To quote Penguin's publicity because it encapsulates the concept so well . . . 'Do You Dare fills a much-needed gap for engaging Australian historical fiction for boy readers aged 8 to 12. These fast-paced, adventure-driven stories effortlessly bring to life so many facets of our past. But most importantly, they're compelling reads, driven by vivid action, great characters and some thrilling moments of jeopardy!'
Written by some of Australia's leading authors, the series introduces some of the lesser-known elements of our history through fast-moving stores set against an historical background of fact. In Fighting Bones, we learn about the Point Puer Boys' Prison in Tasmania which was the forerunner to our current juvenile justice system where boys under 16 were incarcerated and despite the harsh discipline, they were given a chance to learn a trade, garden and farm; the importance of hygiene; attend school in the evenings and even given an opportunity to play. The Last Horse Race has mid-19th century Moreton Bay as its backdrop. Both require their heroes to examine their beliefs and take risks that might be unlawful but which seem the only option at the time. It is this element of having to go against the flow that sets the series apart from other stories in this genre. The reader is confronted directly with the question of 'What would YOU do?'
Historical fiction is a powerful way to introduce past times to students who are just learning about the importance of knowing what has gone before as it enables them to get a feel for the life of the times without being confronted by dry facts and figures. With male heroes of a similar age to theirs, they can engage, perhaps empathise, with the characters while learning at the same time. Each book has factual information at the end which sets the full context for the events in the story. Others in the series include 1931: Tough Times focusing on the cricketing era of Bradman leading to the Bodyline series of 1932 and 1841:The Bushranger's Boys and no doubt, more are in production. They are also available as ebooks which may also engage those reluctant boy readers, although girls will enjoy them too. Some of the titles have teaching notes to accompany them - just search the Penguin website.
An absorbing read, even for one who has read a lot of historical fiction, particularly Australian-based.
Barbara Braxton

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