Search This Blog

Friday, April 13, 2018

A To Z Blogging Challenge: M Is For Elyne Mitchell, Sophie Masson and Geoffrey McSkimming

Today’s Aussie children’s writers are very different from each other. Elyne Mitchell writes about wild horses. Sophie Masson does fantasy, especially fairytales.Geoffrey McSkimming entertains younger readers with humorous archaeological adventures. 



Elyne Mitchell was the author of the Silver Brumby series of children’s novels. They are set in Australia’s Snowy Mountains, and about wild horses. The title character, Thowra, is a stallion described as “creamy” in colour. When I read these stories as a child, I imagined Thowra and his offspring as - well, creamy. Almost white. And you can see by the cover that the artist thought so too. After all, \Thowra is said to blend in with the snow during the winter. But when the film came out in 1993(with Russell Crowe as the unnamed character, known only as The Man, chasing him) Thowra was shown as a(light) palomino and it’s entirely possible that’s what the author had in mind. Brumby is the Australian word for a wild horse. The title character is hunted by humans for his unusual colouring, but he and his herd live in the Secret Valley, where they are unlikely ever to be found.

It is such a very Australian series. The Australian mountains, bush, animals and, when humans appear, way of life, are all there; the reader can almost smell the eucalyptus trees, hear them rustle in the wind... The horses behave like horses, not like cutesy anthropomorphic characters. But there are fantastical elements all the same. Thowra has a best friend, a stallion called Storm, with whom he grew up. He fights other stallions, not Storm. They talk to each other and there is another friend, Benni the kangaroo and his mate Silky, who warn Thowra of danger, whether it’s humans or other forms of danger. But they are not cute! 

In the course of the series, there are three generations of horses, all having their own adventures. And generations of little girls have loved them, including me. This series has joined other Australian classics and is well and truly in print and ebook. I bought  the centenary edition(of the author’s birth) in ebook. I have linked you to Amazon, but it is available everywhere. It is sixty years since the first book was published and it’s still in print! Yep. That sounds like a classic to me. 




Sophie Masson has appeared on this blog so many times, via reviews and a guest post, I will keep this short and link you to some of the other posts. She is the author of many YA fantasies with fairytale backgrounds. Two of them are reviewed on this blog - Moonlight And Ashes(Cinderella) and Hunter’s Moon(Snow White). If you think you know those fairytales, you’ll see them in an entirely new light after reading these books. Both are set in an imaginary European country - the same one - in the nineteenth century, with newspapers and trains and department stores. In the first-mentioned novel, magic is banned unless you’re working for the government, and the Prince is not what he seems. In the second, the heroine’s father is the “King of Elegance”, not of the country, and owns a chain of department stores. The mirror is the Mirror, a newspaper which declares Bianca(Snow White)that year’s Fairest, much to the annoyance of her stepmother, the beautiful and elegant Belladonna. Sophie Masson has also, in recent years, published as well as written, with her small press, Christmas Press. There has been a series of stunningly beautiful books with two folktales  in each, from different countries and eras. I’ve reviewed them on this blog. This one, Two Trickster Tales From Russia,  was written by Sophie herself, but all of them were written by well known children’s authors. You can buy them from the web site, whether you live in Australia or overseas.


Sydney writer Geoffrey McSkimming wrote a series of novels about Cairo Jim, a sort of quirky, over-the-top Indiana Jones for younger readers, boys and girls alike. They have pretty much all been put on to audiobook read by the author, but you can get the ebooks for Kindle.  There is a newer series, Phyllis Wong, about a time travelling girl who inherits the ability to do it from a great grandfather everyone thinks is dead(he’s time travelling)



Cairo Jim is an archaeologist working in Egypt, in the Valley of the Hairdressers. He has two animal friends, a Shakespeare-quoting macaw called Doris and Brenda the Wonder Camel, who is telepathic and enjoys reading Western novels(Melodious Tex). He belongs to the Old Relics Society, run by Gerald Perry Esquire, who is a sort of Marcus Brody figure. The local village, Gurna, has some quirky inhabitants, including Mrs Amun-Ra, who runs the local tea shop. Jim travels overseas, where he doesn’t actually do any digging, but solves a lot of mysteries connected with relics. His antagonist is Neptune Flannelbottom Bone, who studied archaeology with him but has used his knowledge to steal relics. There is a woman in his life also, Jocelyn Osgood, a flight attendant who, it is clear, fancies him, but he never notices, does he? Not even when she comes to his rescue in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by a dance band who think she is Dorothy Lamour. Jocelyn Osgood has several novels of her own - I will tell you more about her in my X post, on her novel Xylophones Above Zarundi

The books are very funny, and have lots of in-jokes that adults can enjoy, a la Asterix, but make a point that the author feels strongly about: we should not be helping ourselves to the heritage of other countries. 


The Cairo Jim novels became hard to get when the author’s original publisher was taken over and most of the original's books scrapped, but I believe they are being reissued in ebook on Amazon, or you can get the audiobooks, which are read by the author. 

13 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I'm sure these are all great authors and offer much to our world ... but the Valley of the Hairdressers .... amuses - what fun some authors can have, yet introducing us to different worlds ... cheers Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, yes, Geoffrey McSkimming definitely has fun playing with these things. On The Trail To Chacha Muchos presents a South American tribe who danced off into the jungle and were never heard of again...Chacha Muchos - get it? They were led by a chief whose name was based on the name of a well-known dance studio and the river was called the Marjandgower(as in Hollywood dancers Marge and Gower Champion). Geoffrey said I was the only one he knew who ever picked that up.) A very cheeky man!

AJ Blythe said...

I remember reading Elyne Mitchell when I was young, and my Barbarians both read Cairo Jim.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Did you and your Barbarians enjoy what you read? :-)

AJ Blythe said...

I enjoyed Mitchell. The Barbarians enjoyed Cairo Jim but not one of their favourites.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Sounds like some interesting books! Thanks for sharing these. I haven't heard of most of them.
Happy A to Z.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks for dropping in! And thanks for all those retweets. Why not check the books out, then?

Jui said...

Thank you for sharing so many interesting books. :) happy weekend.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Thanks, Jui, hope you’ll try one.

Suzanne Sapsed said...

Sophie Masson's books sound like fun!

Sue Bursztynski said...

They are! If you like Kate Forsyth, you should enjoy Sophie Masson,

Cathy Kennedy said...

Sue,

These sound like delightful stories and definitely would be series that would've once appealed to my kids when they were young. I used to love buying books for them. I reckon we spent a small fortune on books for them. Luckily, I was able to sale many of the series adding a little money back to my pocket while finding good homes for those gently used books. Thanks for visiting my iPad Art Sketch'M' is for my favorite Monster A2Z post on Saturday, my friend. I'm playing catch up this morning after spending all weekend with DH. Have a good day and happy A2Zing!

Sue Bursztynski said...

They are wonderful! Perhaps you’d consider trying the Sophie Masson books for yourself?