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Festivale Book Section Festivale online magazine, Melbourne, AustraliaBook Reviews

August, 1999

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Tough Stuff
Tough Stuff, Kirsty Murray.( St. Leonards, Allen and Unwin, 1999. 156 p. $11.95)

The wonderful True Stories series produced by Allen and Unwin is now gone, but the company seems to be publishing similar books on an individual basis. My guess is that this one may originally have been submitted for that series. It’s longer and has no photos and minimal artwork, but otherwise it’s more or less a True Stories title in content and style.
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The topic is “Children and courage”. It includes in this a number of feral kids such as Victor of Aveyron and the Indian wolf-girls, Amala and Kamala. I read both of these with interest since they were covered in Sue Isle’s fine book Wolf Children, published last year.

Others include the young Genghis Khan, 12-year-old Iqbal Masih, the child labourer who was murdered for campaigning against child exploitation, and a number of brave young people who defied the Nazis during World War II, such as the Podgorska sisters, Stefania and Helena, who hid Jews and others who fought in the underground. These are particularly good stories and not well known. Perhaps it’s stretching the “courage” subject a little to include child actor Shirley Temple and a couple of musical prodigies, but never mind.

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A jarring note is struck, however, in the chapter on the Princes in the Tower; this reads as if the author has been doing her research in Shakespeare! At the end of the twentieth century, we should NOT be reading about a villainous Richard III who murdered his nephews, at least not without mentioning that there is some debate about this topic. It may be too complex an issue to include in a children’s book anyway. It is, perhaps, more exciting and dramatic to write about the young princes terrified of their evil uncle, but this is supposed to be history and the fact is, we don’t know what happened and we do know that Richard was not a villain. You have to ask: if she got this bit of research wrong, what else did she get wrong? There is no bibliography, either, against which to check.

It’s all rather puzzling, because Allen and Unwin routinely have manuscripts checked.

A pity, too; this is an otherwise well-written book that could be an enjoyable way for children to learn history.

Sue Bursztynski

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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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