Cricket Crazy by Vivienne Bailey

There is a serious lack of sports fiction for kids, especially books published in New Zealand. We seem to be good at publishing sports memoirs and celebrations of sports teams aimed at adults, but there is not much around for kids. Many of the sports-mad kids aren’t huge readers, but stories about sport are the perfect way to hook them in to books. Vivienne Bailey’s Cricket Crazy, published under the Ahoy! imprint from local publishers Cuba Press, is a wonderful and much-needed novel for kids, focusing on cricket.

Tom Willard is a cricket-crazy eleven-year-old, who dreams of making it big, like his cricket idols. For a while now, it’s just been him, his dad and his dog, Archie. Now his dad has a new girlfriend, called Tanya, who is spending more and more time with him and his dad. Things that used to be just for him and his dad, like cricket, now include Tanya. Tom doesn’t want someone new being part of their life, because he knows that things will change. Things go from bad to worse when Tom’s best friend, Fletcher, gets sick, Tom’s new cricket bat goes missing, and then he is dropped from his team. Tom knows he will have to train hard if he is to make it back on his team and help them get to the finals. Luckily, Tom finds a new friend in Izzy, an all-rounder who helps him improve his skills and get one step closer to his dreams.

Cricket Crazy is a great mix of sports action on and off the pitch and family dynamics. It is engaging for sports-mad kids, especially those who love cricket, and at just 110 pages, it is the perfect length for struggling or reluctant readers. The parts of the story that take place during matches are exciting and quite tense. Tom is a character that sporty kids will be able to relate to, with his focus on improving his skills, getting to the finals, and his rivalry with Menace Mitchell. There will be many readers who will be able to relate to Tom’s family life too, with someone new coming in to the family. From the start, Tom doesn’t like Tanya, and when Tanya starts trying to change things at home, Tom becomes more frustrated. Vivienne Bailey understands her audience well, especially the way that they speak. Tom and his friends feel authentic. Vivienne’s previous experience, working in school and public libraries, has obviously helped in writing this story.

Cricket Crazy is a great addition to primary and intermediate school libraries. I know it will fly off the shelves at my school! The wonderful cover, by Theo Macdonald, will certainly grab kids’ attention.

The Field by Bill Nagelkerke

How on earth do you tell your family that you’d seen . . .

 . . . Our Lady . . .

 . . . The Virgin Mary . . .

 . . . The Queen of Heaven . . .

 . . . The Mother of God. (The Mother of GOD!)

 And that she had spoken to you.

 And that she was going to speak to you again.

 Up in the Crow’s Nest.

 Tomorrow.

 And that was why you had to be there.

 (And that’s why you’d wet yourself.)

Jacinta’s father works as the groundsman for the local sports stadium, which they’ve nick-named The Field.  While he tends to the needs of the stadium, Jacinta looks down on the world from the Crow’s Nest, the corporate box used by the big-wigs to get the best view of the games at the stadium.  The Crow’s Nest is one of her favourite places in the world and she often pretends that she commands the players and places them where she wants them to go.  She may not have her special place for much longer if the City Council gets its way and knocks down The Field to replace it with a carpark for the new stadium.  It is while she is in the Crow’s Nest one day that Mother Mary appears to her in the television.  Jacinta doesn’t know if she is going crazy and seeing things or whether her vision is real, but when Mary appears again the next day there is no doubt.  Mary wants Jacinta to gather as many people as she can at The Field so that she can pass on a message.  The only problem is trying to get her family and the rest of her town to believe her.

The Field is a refreshingly original story from one of Christchurch’s own children’s authors, Bill Nagelkerke.  The story had a real ‘Kiwi’ feel about it, from the setting (which could be just about any city in New Zealand) to the characters.  Don’t be put off by the religious aspect to the story because I think you’d enjoy it whether or not you have any religious affiliation.  I found Jacinta easy to relate to as she was just a normal kid, and I found myself wondering what I would have done if I’d been in her situation.  In a way she’s a modern day Joan of Arc, who has to convince her parents, the priests and the other people in her city that she actually is communicating with Mother Mary and that they should listen to her message.  One thing that I particularly liked about the story was that the second part was told using different forms of media, including newspaper articles, letters to the editor and City Council meeting minutes.  This added different opinions to the story that we didn’t get in the first part.   The ending leaves you wondering whether people do turn up to hear her message and what that message might have been.  Like the other people in the story, we have to make up our own mind.

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Field is one of the first ebooks I’ve read and it’s the first title in ACHUKA’s digital publishing imprint: ACHUKAbooks.  I’ll look forward to reading their next releases.  ACHUKAbooks  are encouraging more submissions so if you are interested you can contact them at kindle@achuka.co.uk.