Friday 22 July 2011

The Hunt for Ned Kelly

The Hunt for Ned Kelly by Sophie Masson (Scholastic Australia ‘My Australian Story’ Series)

PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 1 74169 564 9
Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

I’ll declare my bias. Sophie Masson is an Australian writer whose international view I admire, since she manages to operate enthusiastically in several cultures and languages simultaneously. And currently I’m especially interested in the ways history can be presented in an enticing fashion for junior readers.

Ned Kelly was an apt figure about whom much is known but also myths have been created. The Hunt for Ned Kelly was inspired by a photograph, alleged to be of Kelly and his gang on the run, which Sophie Masson first saw in Beechworth.

Many grade six students are discussing the concept of ‘heroes’ and ‘quests’ so the dilemma of Ned Kelly being ‘notorious’ or ‘famous’ is a good starting point.  Using the photographic realism of a camera which was novel in this period will make ‘digital native’ students consider a time when mobiles didn’t exist.

I've enjoyed the once-removed perspective of 12 year old Jamie from which the writer presented The Hunt for Ned Kelly. It was a clever way of conveying the chronological facts of the case. Readers are likely to relate to Jamie’s viewpoint and his diary format.  I liked the way the graphics/newspaper clippings from the period were inserted and the dilemma of how Ned was perceived. Loyalty seemed to be a strong thread.

Another strength of Masson’s writing is the ability to evoke the Northern Victorian countryside but also with the correct late 1880s details. Like many readers, I’ve been in the Beechworth / Glenrowan area and Masson’s writing revived memories.  For those who have not, Masson’s writing plays on the senses most effectively. Historical detail is cleverly woven; the emotional content is involving and the brother-sister relationship convincing.

Sophie Masson was deservedly given the Patricia Wrightson Award for this title and there are many resources available including radio interviews and Youtube if you Google.

For educators, the title ‘Ned Kelly’ and the substantial range of teachers’ notes and lesson plans provided in support creates almost an entire unit of work, linked to the Australian curriculum.

As there is need for accessible history for the school reading market, I wonder how Ned might have reviewed this book. But that’s another story …

Patricia Wrightson Award: Judges' Comment
Through the eyes of young orphan Jamie Ross and his sister Ellen, an early professional photographer with designs on getting that 'one big shot' using her father's camera - a surprising narrative device which leads to a neat confluence of history and fiction - this story manages to strongly and clearly depict northern Victoria in the late 1800s, in particular the gossip and speculation that followed celebrities then much as it does now. Rather than being 'just (yet) another Ned Kelly book', this novel provides a window into a part of our history that is commonly defined by legend, myth and caricature, but is in fact so much more.

The ability to develop tension in an ending that we already know is no mean feat. In addition to its success as an exciting story this book would work well in the classroom, with the technical aspects of the writing and the historical context each offering much to discuss and explore.

Hazel Edwards’ latest junior fiction is Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop published by New Frontier in the ‘Aussie Heroes’ series.

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