Jon Tucker, Those Sugar-Barge Kids, Storm Bay Books, September 2018, 206 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780980835366
I had never heard of the Ransome genre before, nor do I have much interest in sailing. I did, however, read and reread The Famous Five books as a child, mainly because the idea that kids could have adventures on their own was thrilling to me. Arthur Ransome, I’ve discovered, wrote a series of very popular and famous children’s books in which the children of two families go on sailing adventures.
You can imagine that Jon Tucker spent his childhood reading these stories, and, one can assume, going on his own sailing adventures. Those Sugar-Barge Kids is a thoughtful middle-years book following three Tasmanian siblings on their travels through New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. Here, they meet two sisters who live with their father on a barge.
Tucker’s writing is direct and uncluttered, although at times perhaps a little too technical for non-sailors. His young characters are plucky, awkward and earnest – just like real kids. Interested readers will devour all the details of how people live on boats and barges, how they navigate on small boats and live off the land, how they make their lives. Teachers and librarians can recommend this book for its relatable characters and its interesting detail. There is much to enjoy here in the geographic detail and environmental message as well.
Reviewed by Madeleine Crofts