Johnny Whistler and the Royal Ruby Circus and Johnny Whistler and the Whizzbang Tandem Race
HarperCollins (Tui), each $10.95
The Tom Bradley who enters our sitting rooms as a television newsreader is also a writer of some productivity. He has written the book and lyrics for three stage musicals, is developing the outline for a television mini-series on the life of Gustavas von Tempsky and is a regular magazine columnist. And now he has extended his talents to children’s books.
First came Johnny Whistler and the Spiders in December 1992, then Johnny Whistler and the Royal Ruby Circus (early 1993), followed a short time later by Johnny Whistler and the Whizzbang Tandem Race. When I picked up these last two titles (I haven’t managed to get hold of the first), I was slightly put off by the rather dazzling covers, but not wanting to pre-judge, I decided to seek advice from the audience for whom they are intended. Fortunately, I have a small stockpile of children to whom I can trustingly turn when I need pit-face information about children’s books. From these I chose Ben, a fervent reader of anything printed – Weetbix packets, railway timetables, comics, children’s literature; Michael, a more selective reader; and Sarah, a sometimes reader. Had they heard of Johnny Whistler? Yes, they all had. And the responses?
Ben (1 l): ‘Great. Read them at one go and then started again.’
Michael (9): ‘Quite good. OK to read if you’re feeling a bit tired.’
Sarah (10): ‘Yup. Our teacher read them to us and then I read them for myself’ (thus earning the delight of her mother, who can’t understand having a maverick in a family whose library cards were applied for practically at conception).
They all said the covers were fine: ‘Shows you what it’s all about.’
This seemed reasonably encouraging stuff, so I stayed late in bed on a recent wet Sunday morning and began the chronicles of Johnny Whistler. I was soon caught up in the constant action – reminiscent of some of the older, more conservative TV programmes where Goodies were Goodies and there was no doubt about the Baddies.
If you’re not looking for a multi-layered plot, for systematic character development and memorable prose, then these two titles are what might be called a really good read. Right prevails, and even if you are rather out of breath by the time you reach the last page, there is the satisfactory feeling that all has worked out as it should. It is a pity, though, that nothing in the books sets them as originating in New Zealand.
In the Royal Ruby Circus, Johnny, his sister Debbie and friend Bouncer band together to try to save the struggling ring from ruin and resourcefully and successfully tackle the baddies who are trying to close it down.
The Whizzbang Tandem Race moves even faster, with a conniving ex-Mayor wanting to publicise a major tandem race for his own ends, frantic overnight action as Johnny and his friends prepare some very doubtful bikes in order to qualify, and the race itself winding wildly over a mountain road.
It will be interesting to see just where Tom Bradley’s imagination and obvious enjoyment in writing for young people lead him next, with these undoubtedly popular beginnings.
Barbara Murison is a retired children’s librarian.