The Friendly Games (Kaye Baillie, illus by Fiona Burrows, MidnightSun)
It’s great to see so many books telling true stories of inspiring young people and overlooked yet defining moments in the lives of different communities. The Friendly Games unearths one boy’s contribution to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games (and all subsequent Olympics). Despite drawing a nice parallel between young John’s happy orphanage childhood and his passion for finding a better, more unifying conclusion for the Games, there’s something missing in this book. It’s a shame, as Kaye Baillie exhibits strong personal engagement: her energetic, fond author’s note summarising the story manages to have more life and flow than the book itself. Perhaps in its attempt to simplify the narrative for a younger audience, the book loses some of the charm and earnest joy of the real story. The risk in retelling ‘true stories’ is of being bound to ‘facts’, sometimes at the expensive of narrative dynamism. Burrows’ illustrations reflect this too. The contrast and balance between the black-and-white and colour elements of each page are lovely, but some of the energy seems to have been subsumed in an attempt to capture a sense of authenticity. Nevertheless, this book will be welcome in schools as a way of introducing the ‘history from below’ approach to Australian history.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is a freelance editor, writer, and reviewer, and has worked as a bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop for over 10 years