Review Blog

Jun 30 2011

Ubby's underdogs: The legend of the silver Phoenix by Brenton E. McKenna

cover image

Magabala Books, 2011. ISBN 978 1921248313.
(Ages 9+) Recommended. Graphic novel. Broome in the 1940s is recreated by this new author illustrator, as he teams the unlikely combination of feisty Aboriginal girl, Ubby and her mates, Selimut and Gabe, with a Chinese girl, Sai Fong, newly arrived from Shanghai. In large swirling images, the action is as fast paced and absorbing as a martial arts or ninja film, ensuring approval from many middle school readers.
Sai Fing and her uncle, Poe, are taken to the House of Refuge, where they will be accommodated until Poe can meet the pearling master. Sai Fong is told to go and lie down, as she has a mysterious illness that her uncle is keen to find a cure for. But when she goes to the women's dormitories, she is bullied by the girls already there. Ubby and her crew, passing by, step in. They take Sai Fong with them and bump into several people who cause grief, ending with a challenge made. The football game that ensues ends with Sai Fong kicking the winning goal, and so ensuring the wrath of the loser, Pegleg, who must take off his trousers and sing for the multitude.
A breathtaking story, full of the charm of ancient Chinese mythology, the sights and sounds of Broome of the 1940's, and the amazing array of different cultures which inhabited the town, the story of Ubby and her underdogs is rivetting stuff, reflecting the strata that existed in the town, the prejudices and dislikes brought from other countries and the mix that made up the community.
The illustrations are in full of colour and reflect action and movement, drawn with wonderful perspectives and characters, imagining Broome of half a century ago with nostalgia and fondness. An outstanding graphic novel which sets a new standard for Australian writer/illustrators.
Fran Knight
Editor's note: There is a website to support this book.
Pat Pledger

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