Night ride into danger by Jackie French

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Night ride into danger is another historical adventure book by Jackie French which has to be included in every school library. In this story French has dug into the history of the area in which she now lives in the vicinity of the Atherton Tablelands of southern NSW. The story is bookended by two Henry Lawson poems.The poems describe Cobb & Co. and its impact on colonial life and also jail - an experience which shadows one of the main characters in the story. These poems along with French's interest in the history of her home in the Araluen Valley on the edge of the Deura wilderness were the inspiration for Night ride into danger.

Being the consummate storyteller, French wastes no time submerging the reader into the plot. The story begins in heavy rain in a Cobb & Co. coachyard as the night mail to Goulburn coachman and his son Jem wait for the passengers. Horses snuffle and stamp with impatience, small brown frogs jump around in the mud and the straw and old Ma Grimsby owner of the Braidwood lodgings whispers to Paw, "There's somethin' strange about one o' your passengers tonight...Terrible strange," she hisses. "Enough to shiver in your boots!"

The story gallops on from there with the speed and adventure of the wildest coach ride through the NSW countryside along the old Cobb and Co roads. French has thoroughly researched the design and set up of the coaches and horses and the old Cobb and Co routes. The characters are well fleshed out and even the most rotten and perhaps potentially dangerous character emerges as a complex person. The story is fiction but the bushranger character (Mr. Smith) is modelled on the real bushranger Frank Gardiner and the story of a young boy who had to drive the team himself when his father was injured really did happen. The rest of the characters and incidents are an amalgam of people and events of that period of time in Australia.

12 year old Jem is the hero of the story. He is a courageous, sensitive and good person. The third person narration draws in and holds the reader's sympathy with and interest in Jem throughout the entire adventure. The rollicking, heart-stopping and dangerous action culminates satisfactorily as all adventure story books should. To add to the interest for the pre teen reader this is a coming of age story where relationships bud and bloom. Of interest is French's depiction of cross cultural marriages involving Aboriginals, Indians, Chinese and Scots which were considered unorthodox in the 1800s. 

French skilfully weaves in much historical detail. Her choice of subject is rarely covered in the history curriculum and therefore Night ride into danger is a great adjunct to the primary curriculum particularly at the year 5 level. The inclusion of Henry Lawson's poems is also a welcome addition, integrating Australian literature into history through the historical narrative form.

This book lends itself to a class read aloud as children will be hanging on their seats to find out what happens next to Jem on the Night ride into danger.

Jackie French is one of our best loved storytellers and this exciting mystery adventure story about the Cobb & Co. set in 1874 is highly recommended.

Themes: History of the southern tableland area of NSW, Gold, Bushrangers,Cobb and Co., Adventure, Friendship, Trust.

Wendy Jeffrey