'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 13 December 2015

Review: The Marvellous Funambulist of Middle Harbour and Other Sydney Firsts

This is a history of Sydney unlike any other. Told in rhyming verse, and gloriously illustrated by cartoonist Matthew Martin, it charts the 'firsts' that have shaped the city.

But these aren't the usual notable firsts you'd expect to find in a history book. Instead, author Hilary Bell has covered such things as:

Who first pulled a tooth using ether?
What started the first pistol fight?
When were the first Chinese tea rooms?
Where was the first traffic light?

Other firsts include the first ferryman to charge a fare, the first Opera House concert (performed when the Opera House was still a construction site!), the first crossing of Middle Harbour by tightrope (a funambulist is a tightrope walker), and — my personal favourite — the first mother-and-daughter taxidermy business! At the back of the book, there's a paragraph about each event describing it in more detail.

This is a great way to show kids that history needn't be about dry facts and dates. It's also about fascinating people, unexpected happenings, the quirky and the entertaining. Younger readers will need an adult on hand to help them through some of the vocabulary and references, but that's not necessarily a bad thing — I know my knowledge of Sydney and its history has improved as a result.

Title: The Marvellous Funambulist of Middle Harbour and Other Sydney Firsts
Author: Hilary Bell
Illustrator: Matthew Martin
Publisher: NewSouth, $24.99 RRP
Publication Date: December 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781742234403
For ages: 6+
Type: Picture Book