The Boy From Bowral
Author: Robert Ingpen
Publisher: Walker Books
Rating: 3.5 stars
By Stuart Wark
22 Sep 2008
I have never really been into cricket photos, - although the photos of Trumper driving and Miller cutting are classics - what I do like are cricket drawings, even if these are representations of original photographs. I am always on the look out for books with fine drawings on the front cover.
One of the first I ever purchased was the classic: Australian Cricket The Game and The Players
by Jack Pollock with the evocative The Cricketers
by Russell Drysdale on the front cover. Commissioned in 1948. This particular painting was considered 'too vulgar' to be shown at Lords by the MCC.
The Boy From Bowral was a pleasure to peruse, with page after page of beautiful drawings of Sir Donald Bradman from a young man to the greatest of all batsmen.
The artist Robert Ingpen is extremely talented, and has captured wonderfully the grace and brutal power that was Bradman at the wicket. Although the best drawings in my opinion are those of the young Don defending his wicket against other youngsters with the stumps chalked onto a pole.
Every illustration in the book is reproduced in full colour, and the artist has chosen judiciously which drawings to incorporate, and they include many other famous cricketers including: Ponsford, Eddie Gilbert, Jardine, Larwood, Trumper and even Ricky Ponting. The cricket tragic will be familiar with almost every painting included, except for those of the child Bradman, which I imagine are the artists impressions.
The book is designed for the younger reader, but the text is based on: Bradman The Illustrated Biography
by Michael Page, which is one of the best Bradman biographies written to date.
Unfortunately the book is somewhat spoiled at the end with the author finding it necessary to denigrate the name of Victor Trumper in an odious comparison between Trumper and Bradman. This is also mentioned in the Page biography and certainly did not need airing again, we all know that Bradman was the greatest batsman in the history of Test cricket, but was he the most aesthetically pleasing?
Apart from this one minor criticism the book should be compulsory reading for all school age children in this cricket tragics opinion, but I might be biased when it comes to the Don.
The book also had one last sting in the tale; in 'further Reading' it lists 12 books, but not a mention of those written by Roland Perry. An oversight?
The 100th anniversary of Don Bradman's birth has seen yet more books dedicated to the memory of the legendary cricketer. It is hard to think of too much more that could possibly be added the already saturated marketplace, however, Robert Ingpen has written and illustrated 'The Boy from Bowral'
which is squarely aimed at the younger reader. There have been few attempts to provide children with easy to read books about cricket, and this is certainly a point of differentiation to the rest of the Bradman books flooding the marketplace.
Robert Ingpen is an Australian illustrator and author who has been involved in over 100 books. A large percent of these works are children's stories and picture books, however, he has a long history of working also in conservation, the environment and sport. He worked for the CSIRO and United Nations as an artist and graphic designer before becoming a freelance illustrator and author. In addition to his work in literature, Ingpen has also designed postage stamps, the coat of arms for the Northern Territory, the bronze doors to the Melbourne Cricket Club and also designed the official tapestry to celebrate 150 years of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In 2007 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for "service to literature as an illustrator and author of children's books, to art design and education, and as a supporter of health care organizations'.
Ingpen has done a marvelous job of illustrating the book, with many wonderful pictures of Bradman in action scattered throughout. Many are clearly based upon famous photos of the time, but these points of reference do not detract from their artist merit. The text of the book is also not particularly innovative, being largely derived from volumes such as Michael Page's 'Bradman - The Illustrated Biography'
. This is also not a problem, as Page's book is still the pre-eminent work on Bradman and the best possible basis for factual information about his life.
Over the years I have reviewed a fair few cricket books, fantasy and crime novels and even academic texts. However, I have never had to evaluate a children's picture book before, and it was quite a difficult exercise. On one hand, I wanted to grind my teeth in frustration at the overly simplistic and sometimes condescending comparisons between Bradman and other players such as Trumper. However, I also had to remember who the audience for this book was, and it is clearly not someone who already has a reasonable knowledge of Bradman. Likewise, the universally positive image of Bradman that Ingpen presents is consistent with the target group's expectations. An adult book that presented such an unbalanced viewpoint would clearly be guilty of the worst form of hero worship, however, in this situation it is probably appropriate.
In my estimation, the book is aimed at younger cricket enthusiasts from the age of around 8 and up. I tried to read it to my 6 year old son, who is just starting to show some interest in cricket, but his attention waned fairly quickly. The text does have a fair amount of information and recitation of match statistics which were clearly beyond the interest levels of a child in kindergarten, and the lack of ninjas or Darth Vader doomed it. However, I can see it appealing to him in a few years time, and I will certainly put it aside as an introduction to Bradman for him to read once he is a bit older. I also tried getting my eleven year old daughter to read it, but her lack of interest in something as 'boring as cricket' meant it also missed the mark with her.
An overall rating for this book is quite hard. It deserves credit for providing a means of introducing younger readers to the world and mystique of Bradman, and I think it does a good job of this. It is probably an ideal Christmas present for an aunt or uncle to a cricket lover between the ages of about eight to fourteen.