Review of ‘The Adventures of Nelly Nolan Book 1: The Nelly Gang’

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Review of ‘The Adventures of Nelly Nolan Book 1: The Nelly Gang’

Written and illustrated by Stephen Axelsen

Publisher: Walker Books

Age Range: middle – upper primary

Themes:  history, Australia, immigration, goldfields, graphic novels, adventure, action, mateship, friendship.

Nelly Gang

To add this book to your home or school library click here.

I have long loved the work of author/illustrator Stephen Axelsen – his books are endearing and quirky and funny, so funny. You can read more about him here, as part of my ‘Book People series. His latest book is ‘The Adventures of Nelly Nolan Book 1: The Nelly Gang’, and I was honoured to be asked to launch this book recently, at the StoryArts Festival – truly the best children’s literature festival around. You can read about the launch here.

‘The Adventures of Nelly Nolan’ is a graphic novel, and let me be honest and say that I am a relatively recent convert to graphic novels. I had a time working at a boys’ school, and it was there that I picked up my first graphic novel, disliked it immensely and put it aside. However, as I watched the graphic novels fly out the library door in the hands of previously reluctant readers, I gave them another go and now graphic novels sit comfortably in my bedside reading pile, often on top of the pile in fact. And it seems I am far from alone in enjoying graphic novels. With their wonderful blending of art and literature, graphic novels are incredibly popular and respected in the literary world, and there is a noticeable increase in their publication. On his blog tour next week (details at the end of this post), Stephen will be talking about graphic novels in some detail and I encourage you to follow along and join in the fun.

‘The Nelly Gang’ is set in Christmastown in 1860 and it has a fabulous cast of characters which children will readily relate to. Everyone on the goldfields of Christmastown wants to get rich! But when Nelly and her pa, Paddy, finally strike gold, bushrangers are ready to pounce. And so begins a rollickingly tale of gold diggers, immigrants, bushrangers, paddlesteamers, ghosts and goats, a darned horrid schoolteacher and settlements uprooting the lives of Indigenous Australians. This series is a story for all young Australians; it is a story of our past and of the importance of mateship and courage and persistence. There is much to love in this book!

Being a graphic novel, it also cleverly works for many age ranges – my five-year-old greatly enjoyed it (she does love a good drama!). It was PudStar’s first experience of a graphic novel and I can see I’ll be sourcing a few more in the not-too-distant future for her and the Chief Bedtime Reader aka daddy. My grandmother also enjoyed it. She is a huge Jackie French/Belinda Murrell historical fiction fan, and I’d run out of those so I threw Nelly Gang her way and she had a great old time reading it – so that’s spanning a fair few age ranges!

But where I think it will be most enjoyed is the middle primary years of school, particularly with the National Curriculum: History and its focus in Year Five on the Gold Rush era, and in the English curriculum with the focus on character viewpoints, multimodal texts, visual literacy and historical stories. I can see this being used as a class text in Year Four or Five, or with small extension English groups.

The book trailer is below…I’ve been replaying it over and over just to listen to the music!

Follow it up in the home, school or library

  • Clearly this book is perfect for Year Five History. The content descriptors can be seen on the ACARA site here.
  • There are teachers notes from Walker Books here.
  • The best activity I have done at school on ‘The Nelly Gang’ was to do with story setting, which Year Six have been investigating. The students used the template here from ReadWriteThink to create a trading card about the setting of ‘The Nelly Gang’, and a range of other graphic novels. We have a lovely collection in the library. We have also used this same template to create trading cards about authors. An example is below…it says created by Narelle Oliver because I asked the students to use the name of an author they liked instead of their own! Narelle Oliver didn’t really sit in on my library lesson.

Nelly Gang Trading Card

The title and cover of each book takes you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here.  Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.

Megan Daley Bio

Looking for more great book reviews and recommendations? I’m Megan Daley and you can find out more about me here.

My book recommendations (for babies to young adults) is here and you can peruse ALL of my reviews (searchable by age, genre and theme) here.

Check out my mini ebook, 'What to Read Next' or sign up for my FREE webinar, '3 Tips to Start the Best Book Club Ever'.

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  1. Nikki C on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for this review. I am always on the lookout for well written kids graphic novels as my 9 year old son is a huge fan of them and my 6year old daughter is starting to seek them out at the library too. Its a bonus that it has Australian content as well as being an historical novel as history is my sons other passion.

  2. JodieMcA on Sep 17, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Wow – I love the look of this book. The diversity of the characters – the fact that there are villans, ghosts, gold, heros and a goat. Bring it on – I also love the fun way to introduce Australian history and the play on words in the title. My son is very interested in Ned Kelly at the moment having recently seen the Nolan paintings and read the book Meet Ned Kelly – I am sure he (6) and his sister (2) would love this too – I know their Mum would ; ).

  3. Sheryl Gwyther on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Lovely review! I especially love how Stephen draws his characters’ movements – so much work. And then to make them into a full story. Phew!

  4. Jo on Sep 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    My kids are big graphic novel fans, they would love to get their hands on this one!

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