Book Review: War Blacks, by Matt Elliott

cv_war_blacksAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Rugby and war are often described as major influences in defining who we are as New Zealanders. This book is a new twist on an old theme.

To dismiss this book as ‘just another rugby book’ would be doing it a serious disservice. Everyone has a story to tell and Matt Elliott does this very capably for the over 90 men who both played for the All Blacks and, either before off after, served in World War 1. Although following the narrative of individual sporting and wartime careers becomes somewhat repetitive, there are certainly some intriguing stories. The remarkable account of Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Henry Essau Avery is one such tale.

Liberally distributed within the player’s biographies are some superb snippets and anecdotes. Former M.P. John A Lee’s account of playing rugby (John was a soccer player), in an article for Chronicles of the NZEF in 1916 is a classic example: ‘A man needs to be a centipede to play rugby decently, and every leg shod with a pair of tens.’

As a rugby enthusiast I was a little disappointed that the All Blacks involved in World War 2 were not give similar treatment. Perhaps that story has been told elsewhere, but the likes of Fred Allen, Charlie Saxton and Bob Scott – to name but three – deserve to be remembered as War Blacks, such was their influence for decades after the war.

While this book may attract only the dedicated bunch, for the serious collector it is a must.

Reviewed by Robin Hughes

War Blacks
by Matt Elliott
Published by Harper Colllins NZ
ISBN  9781775540366

Book review: The Frog Footy Player by Chris Gurney

This book is in bookstores now.

Tucked away in a pile of cushions and beanbags on a chilly winter‘s afternoon in a busy school holiday programme was where I donned my test pilot gear to review this book.

Fifty four, 5 – 13 yr olds with their humour and honesty would be a pretty good guide.

Judging the book purely by its cover the majority vote from the group was that it was likely to be a story that perhaps the 5 -6 yr olds would love and not cool for anyone else. By the time the first three pages were read, wider appeal was obvious with a drop in the noise level, a decrease in the jiggling and wriggling of bodies and some older children, snuggling in closer to get a good look at the illustrations.

It was proving to be a story that related well to children who already had an interest and connection in their own lives to rugby, nature, farms, mud, food, fishing, family and our mighty All Blacks. Such strong connections creatively threaded together in rhyming, witty words are this book’s real strength.

At the end, when we had all munched on our own chocolate fish that I had tucked in my bag, the votes were in. 53 children scored it 8 or more out of 10 and it would probably appeal mostly to 5 – 9 yr olds.

The one other vote was a zero, as there was a determined opinion that the main character should have been a boy…

Reviewed by Julie King

The Frog Footy Player
Written by Chris Gurney, illustrated by John Bennett
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430575