#aww2019 · 2019 Reviews · Australian · children · history

Children’s Book Review: The Secret of the Youngest Rebel by Jackie French

Title: The Secret of the Youngest Rebel (The Secret Histories, Book 5)youngest rebel small.jpg

Author: Jackie French

Published: January 29th 2019

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 128

Genres:  Children (7+)

RRP: $14.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

The whisper in the darkness is: rebellion! (Or: death or liberty!)

Frog is an orphan, a pickpocket, starving on the streets of Parramatta in 1804.

But when the tall, commanding Irish rebel Mr Cunningham talks of freedom from tyranny and the lash, Frog creeps out to join the rebels, the 10,000 convicts who will take over the colony and proclaim the Republic of New Ireland.

Will farmers like Barney and Elsie Bean join the battle against the corrupt New South Wales Corps? For the fate of the colony – and Australia – will be decided at Castle Hill.

Based on eyewitness accounts, this fifth title in The Secret Histories series uncovers the secrets that the colonial government hid for over 200 years.

Review:

‘Death or liberty?’ Ma whispered. ‘Which will you choose, boy?’

I met her small mean eyes. ‘Liberty!’ I said.
Tomorrow we’d be free, or we would die.’

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is the fifth edition in The Secret Histories Series penned by Australian author Jackie French. This series is aimed at middle grade readers (aged 7 years and up) and it does a wonderful job of bridging the gap between young readers and Australian history. An accessible format, complete with chapter drawings, this is a great way to introduce young Australians to our nation’s hidden history. This particular issue focuses on the Castle Hill armed rebellion of 1804, using the compelling voice of Frog, a young narrator caught up in the thick of the action.

Using the firsthand account of Frog, a young orphan from the streets of Parramatta, The Secret of the Youngest Rebel by Jackie French looks specifically at the Castle Hill convict rebellion, which took place in March 1805, in the still young Australia. When Frog becomes acquainted with the enigmatic Mr Cunningham, life will never be the same again. The uprising resulted in of thousands of convicts ready to take action against the colonial forces, in order to gain the upper hand. The convicts hoped to proclaim to colony The Republic of New Ireland. This battle has remained in the history books and The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is based on this rebellion. Informed by official accounts, the latest chapter in Jackie French’s ‘The Secret History Series’ is one essential read for our young Australians.

Jackie French is the perfect history guide. French presents a very readable account of a pivotal event in our history books, which carefully overlaps historical fact with fiction. As an adult reader approaching a middle grade text, I found The Secret of the Youngest Rebel to be informative, but also targeted well to the age group French has in mind for her text. The language and sentence structure is accessible. I also thought this was the ideal length for a junior fiction reader. There are also engaging black and white images that accompany each chapter heading, to give the reader a taste of what is to come.

Frog (catchy name!) is our voice, taking the reader into Australia’s past. Situating the audience in the early 1800s, in the Parramatta area of Sydney, a scene of uprising, dissidence and a fight for daily survival defines this novel. For Frog, life is not easy. Frog subsists on little food and relies on stealing, scraps or coins tossed by sailors. When Mr Cunningham takes a shine to Frog, things change dramatically. I enjoyed the gentle friendship and the way in which Mr Cunningham took Frog under his wing. This relationship gave the book a good injection of feeling.

Frog was a great character to follow and is fully fleshed out by French. I’m sure there is enough mischief, adventure, bravery and loyalty to Frog, which will be sure to draw appeal to young readers of this book. The action, chivalry and fearlessness displayed by Frog and those who take part in the rebellion makes this book a memorable one. I still feel a little embarrassed that I cannot recall learning about this event at school. Never mind, I have expert Australian historian and storyteller Jackie French to lean on!

Jackie French is highly dedicated to her craft and getting her details just so. The way she recreates an image of early Australia is both vivid and educative.

‘Down by the waterfront at Sydney Town there’s a huddle of convict women’s huts, all log walls of rotting cabbage tree and bark roofs falling in. The huts were built by the sailors who brought the First Fleet here for the women they’d come to love on the voyage.’

Do not bypass the extensive Author’s Notes, following the end of the novel. It contains an overview of the key words use in the text, historical facts on the Castle Hill rebellion, Lies, Myths and Promises, coverage of Repression in Ireland, a word on Roman Catholicism in Australia. It aptly concludes with a piece on Philip Cunningham, the real life historical figure that featured heavily in this engaging story.

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is a great testament to Australian history, it had a cracking narrative twist and through the primary narration of young Frog, middle grade readers will be inexplicably drawn in the history books. Add this one to your shelf if you want to enhance your HASS curriculum as a teacher, or to your bookshelf if you want your child to experience an inspiring tale of Australia’s yesteryear.

‘The child who fled into the darkness for a cause she hardly understood has gone. But where there’s wrong that needs righting, I’m still a rebel too.’

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel by Jackie French was published on 29th January 2019 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Secret of the Youngest Rebel, Jackie French, visit here.

I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is book #23 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge 

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