Those Shipwreck Kids

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Jon Tucker, Those Shipwreck Kids, Storm Bay Books, May 2017, 89pp., $19.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780994447432 

The first thought that raced through Jess’s head as seawater poured through the gaping hole, was that it was all her fault. She was the navigator on this expedition. It was her responsibility to make sure that they didn’t hit any rocks. Even though she had set up safe waypoints before they left Compass Rose, she hadn’t bothered to check her sketch-chart or her GPS. And now they were sinking! 

Written by experienced sailor and teacher turned adventurer, Jon Tucker, Those Shipwreck Kids is the third in a linked series of environmental-themed stand-alone books.

When a Tasmanian sailing family anchors near an old wrecked hulk in New Zealand’s Malborough Sound, the kids discover a strangely abandoned campsite nearby, with plates of uneaten food and children’s toys still visible under the mould and cockroaches.  The mystery adds a layer of intrigue to this Arthur Ransom inspired tale of five children’s adventures as they sail, explore, and camp together in this remote coastal region’s sheltered sandy beaches and unique native forests.

As you might expect, after spending two decades aboard his own family’s piratical black ketch, Tucker’s accumulated experience of sailing the Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific locations has given him an abundance of material for this book, allowing his readers a fascinating glimpse at both the sailing lifestyle and the distinctly antipodean choice of setting for this adventure.

Although predominantly a work of fiction, the author gives his tale a stamp of authenticity by writing from his own experience and using real-life places such as the wreck at St Omer, the hide-away cove at Dillon Bell, and a monument that can be found at Ship Cove.

Told from the point of view of Jess, the daughter of the Tasmanian sailing family, young readers will quickly become immersed in the story and relate easily to the believable child-characters.  As well as the obvious adventures to be had, Jess and her fellow siblings and friends also experience the usual childhood challenges of second-guessing adult behaviour and dealing with the intricacy of friendships new and old. Always plotting and planning, using her tablet computer, our savvy navigator Jess is struggling to understand her feelings and sift through the conflicting emotions typical of her age and the deepening of a particular relationship, something the author tenderly addresses, creating some subtle but poignant moments many older children will be able to relate to.  

The author’s love and respect for the natural world is obvious in his storytelling; the second book in this series (Those Eco-Pirate Kids) was a finalist for the 2015 Environmental Award for Children’s Literature.

The principal themes of Those Shipwreck Kids are those of predator eradication and bio-security, which are explored through the children’s chance meetings with conservationists, their own exciting discoveries as they play ashore, and through some extremely useful Mauri knowledge that the twins (Zac and Tania) are able to share, thanks to their grandfather and his native ancestry.

Aside from the environmental focus of this book, a particularly thought-provoking theme explored throughout is that of freedom and how this inevitably goes hand in hand with responsibility.

Each chapter is full of examples of how the children and their parents plan and weigh up risks, making informed decisions based on careful and practical assessment of their surroundings, the weather and conditions.  As a result the children are granted the refreshing kind of freedom I’ve previously only read about in Arthur Ransom or Enid Blyton stories, and which has certainly become lost in more recent times.

Not only do the children race dinghies, hike, and camp alone, but they are free to complete exciting challenges in the wilderness and play torch tag games in the absolute darkness.  It is the kind of glorious freedom any parent would want for their children and the resulting resilience of this upbringing is demonstrated by the children’s ability to solve problems, think clearly in crisis situations, and accept the lessons that can be learnt from their mistakes. 

The chapters are short, well paced and include the children’s charts, diagrams, interior plans of their vessel, a helpful glossary, and the author’s own neatly sketched illustrations.  

As well as a dose of well narrated, good old fashioned adventure, this title incorporates a great deal of information related to boats, sailing, survival and the wildlife native to this fascinating region, ensuring strong appeal to adventure loving readers aged nine years and over.  As a parent or teacher it is also a very rewarding read, with much food for thought when it comes to nurturing both our environment and our children, advocating the importance of a child’s adventuring and fiercely independent spirit.  It has certainly left me planning and thinking about ways I might allow my own sons more free-range, child-initiated adventure.

I look forward to reading the other titles in the series and feel these books have a place in both the environmentally focused classroom environment and the more confident upper-primary reader’s adventure collection.

Reviewed by Lisa Hoad

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