Young George wants to go to Big Spills Water World more than anything, but he lives in Mumblegum – in the middle of nowhere. Gran has an idea. If George wins the Stockman’s Cup, the five hundred dollar prize money could make a trip to the fun park possible. But this is a horse race, George points out to Gran, in the spirit of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ – they won’t let him enter on his motorbike! Gran’s got it all worked out: George can ride Bandicoot – who these days spends his time on the veranda with his best friend, Croak, a crow that can’t fly, but can call out, ‘Haveacuppatea!’. Gran has every confidence in Bandicoot, pure mountain-bred and winner of the Cup five years straight in his younger years. George thinks about the prize money and decides to give it a go. What he doesn’t know is he’s in for the race of his life and that Croak and three naughty goats are going to make things complicated.
The Boy from Snowy River, part of the Mates series of ‘great Australian yarns’, is a delightful book for beginning readers. Its presentation makes it immediately accessible to the target audience with its short chapters, appropriate font size and Joe Bond’s colourful, humorous and animated illustrations. I did find the stratagem of highlighting random words on every page in different fonts and sizes off-putting, but perhaps this would be appealing to a young child. At first I thought this was to draw attention to unfamiliar vocabulary, but this did not seem to be consistently the case. The intertextual references to Banjo Paterson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’ worked well, adding depth of meaning and interest to the text – which was well-plotted and held the reader’s attention throughout. The characters, especially the waggish Gran and protagonist, George, were likeable and well drawn. If the reader was not already familiar with the text to which this story alludes, the book would serve as an excellent introduction. Entertaining and enjoyable – a great Aussie yarn indeed.
Omnibus Books, 2014
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 29, Issue 3, July 2014)