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Saturday, July 01, 2017

CBCA Shortlist #4: Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe. Magabala Books, 2016

This is in the Younger Readers category of this year's shortlist. Younger Readers books vary from picture storybooks to books that most people would consider YA, but this short book is only eighty pages long and definitely falls in the middle grade category, though the heroine is in her teens.

Marnie is a horsy girl, incidentally Koori(the author is Koori and the imprint exists to publish indigenous work). On the very first page, the grief-stricken mother of a schoolmate who has died offers her the girl's horse, Mrs Margaret Whitlam, aka Maggie, a part-Clydesdale, begging her to take the animal off her hands, because it's just too much to look at her and remember. Oddly, it isn't because the late Vicki died in a riding accident, but I guess if you had to look after, feed and exercise a huge part-Clydesdale every day, you couldn't help remembering. 

Marnie is thrilled to be the owner of such a gorgeous horse - and I have to say, Maggie is the sort of horse I would have loved to have had as a horsy child, reading pony novels by the Pullein-Thompson sisters, if I hadn't been living in a flat, a long way from pastures and stables... She is huge and cuddly and loving. And before the novel is over, she has also been heroic. What's not to love? 

Luckily for Marnie, she is able to keep Maggie at the local riding school, where she hangs around and helps out, a good thing, as horses are expensive!  (That, of course, was something I never considered as I put away my pocket money for a horse...). The riding school owner is a wise older man who knows everyone in the district, including the apparently snobby girl who makes Marnie unwelcome at the pony club, but who has her own troubles. 

The reader is introduced to Marnie's large, cheerful family, and I feel sure that in a book for older readers it would be interesting to read about them, but they come and go and suddenly the book is over, with Marnie potentially an item with the school hunk, a surfer and a terribly nice, kind boy, who helps her out in a rescue. 

Really, not a lot happens or has time to happen, but I imagine horse-loving girls in the later years of primary school will drool over Maggie the horse. I know this middle-aged teacher-librarian did. 

Will it get far in the CBCAs? Hard to tell. I have only read two of the other contenders. One is the wonderful Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, and that is a book I think really belongs in the Older Readers category, not sure why it's with the Younger Readers. The other is Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade. That one is good fun, in a Diary Of A Wimpy Kid style, but not really, in my opinion, awards material. However, I'm not one of the judges. Possibly the YABBA Awards, which are voted on by children, yes, but the CBCA Awards are judged by adults.

If there was a Morris Gleitzman Once novel on the list this year, it would be very likely to win, but the next book in the series, Maybe, is still cooking... There is a Holocaust novel by Robyn Bavati which I really should get, as our students love their Holocaust fiction and there's no new Morris Gleitzman book yet. Mind you, Gleitzman's hero, Felix, has survived the war and now has other troubles in post-war Poland. 

Still, let's see how this horse story goes over!

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