Tommy Bell, Bushranger Book: Shoot-Out at the Rock & The Horse Thief by Jane Smith, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781925275940 & 9781925520064
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Here are two chapter books in the Tommy Bell series where readers can enjoy fast-paced fictional adventures with real bushrangers. In Shoot-Out at the Rock, Tommy is sent to Grandpa’s farm after getting into trouble at school near Uralla. There Grandpa gives him a horse called Combo to use. Together, horse and riding explore a cave: it is here that Tommy finds a bushranger’s cabbage-tree’ hat. Grandpa tells Tommy about a bushranger called Captain Thunderbolt who roamed around Uralla in the 1860s on his horse also called Combo. Thereafter Tommy is transported back in time to find himself involved with Fred Ward who bails up a coach. This turns out to be Captain Thunderbolt himself.
In the rest of the story, author Jane Smith interweaves Tommy’s journey with his family and Combo to a dressage event, with unpredictable ventures in 1850s Victorian goldfields. At the conclusion of this adventure story, there is an historical note about Thunderbolt as well as a question and answer section.
In The Horse Thief, Tommy again finds himself in trouble at school with a new friend. It transpires that Francis is less trouble than the bushranger Tommy meets while wearing his bushranger’s hat which once again takes him back to the gold rush days. Continuing his time-travel adventures, Tommy finds himself involved in a horse robbery, a police chase and a prison escape. This time he is involved, too, with another bushranger -- Francis Christie, a skilled horse rider whose alias is familiar to Australian history buffs – Frank Gardiner.
For readers who like historical facts, there are footnotes again in this book which tell more about Gardiner and his life. The writing in both books is clear and fast-paced while the illustrations that highlight aspects of the narration are stark and simple, with thick black lines reminiscent of wood-cut prints.
These books would suit readers, particularly boys, aged 9 to 12 years.