Don Lemna, Out in Left Field (Holiday House 2012)
In one of my previous lives, when I was editor of The School Magazine, we published a series of Don Lemna’s stories under the general title ‘A Canadian Childhood’. That was in the mid 1990s. It took many years of rewriting, submitting, combining into novel form, resubmitting, relocating from Canada to Montana in the USA, resubmitting, but eventually, in 2008, some of those stories came out between hard covers in Don’s first novel, When the Sergeant Came Marching Home. I may have the only copy of that book ever to come to Australia, and everyone I’ve lent it to, of whatever age, has loved it. Out in Left Field, hot off the press, features all the same characters and a reworked version of one of those School Magazine stories, and I’m reliably informed that a third book is on the way that will take the main character, Don, into adolescence.
It’s 1947 and Don – I mean the character, not the author, though there are surely a number of overlaps between the two – is 11. He and his family are still living on a farm, still scrimping and making do, still – in Don’s case – yearning for such luxuries as a bow and arrows, or skates that fit, or a new hockey stick. Don is an eternal optimist, forever hatching plans to raise money, to shore up his reputation at school, to persuade relatives to come to his rescue. His hopes are dashed, his plans go awry, he is plunged into deep misery – but never into despair. Meanwhile, his brother Pat, one of the most beguiling little brothers in literature, manages with more wisdom and less turmoil (though he is responsible for at least one major explosion).
I laughed out loud many times. Any Australian children’s booksellers happening to read this: do consider getting hold of it.