Thursday, August 22, 2013

An exciting new historical junior fiction series

New Zealand Girl Series published by Puffin (Penguin New Zealand)

Penguin has just released an exciting new series for girls. The lacy cover with pink titles led me to think the stories within would be sugary sweet – what I found instead were well written adventure stories by two skilled authors.

Rebecca and the Queen of Nations by Deborah Burnside

Set in 1874 and beginning in Ireland 10-year-old Becky takes desperate measures into her hands. She escapes the workhouse and leaves behind her orphaned brothers and sisters, stealing a horse so that she can travel to Belfast to find her brother Felix. She lands a maid’s job on board Felix’s boat the Queen of Nations, which is setting sail for New Zealand.

Young Becky must look after the family while the children’s mother is laid ill with sea sickness and late stages of pregnancy. Becky has all the skills to help the family; she had been her mam’s right-hand while she was alive. Guilt still tugs her that she could have helped her own Mam’s labour but instead she ran to get help. Can she help this mother, will she survive the taunting of the older boy Patrick and last the long journey to New Zealand?

Author Deborah Burnside tells a convincing story of what it would be like on board a ship.

“’No naked flame below!’ came the call through the hatch before it was sealed. All lamps were trimmed, and the emigrants waited out their fate in the dark. Storms had come and gone before, but this time the wind screamed around the masts and raked its nails down the canvas, and the waves thrashed at the decks, thrusting watery fingers into every crack and crevice.”

She evokes the sounds, smells and happenings on board. We join Rebecca in the excitement and fears of life as a nineteenth-century immigrant girl. So much so, you’ll wish the story continued after they land in Auckland.

Hene and the Burning Harbour by Paula Morris

Hene’s life in the pa changes the day missionary woman Mata Wiremu sails into their village, in 1845. She carries the important medicine that could help Hene’s ailing brother Taehi along with all the other sick whanau. Hene is excited to be the one to spread the good news that the healing woman has arrived but is dumbstruck when she is told later that day she must go back with her to Paihia Mission. Hene doesn’t want to go to school – she wants to run free and help her family. She has no choice.

At the mission she must wear an itchy hot dress, attend class every day where she learns to read and write. She also has to learn how to sew, which her clumsy fingers struggle to master. She’s lonely and pines for her family until Rangi joins the school. She befriends the girl and finds out life at the missionary is much better than Rangi’s life in the town of Kororareka (now called Russell). When Kororareka is attacked Hene must face her fears to rescue Rangi.

This series is a must for any study of nineteenth century New Zealand in Years 5-8. Teachers could pair the books up with non-fiction books, as part of the Reading and Social Studies curriculum. Students will enjoy the suspenseful stories at school or reading for pleasure.  Boys will be put off by the frills on the cover but girls will delight in the strong female characters and stories that end with hope.

I like that the books also have extensive glossaries, a map of the region, historical notes about the time the stories are set, and the authors stories about how they became a New Zealand girl.

I hope that Penguin will also provide Teaching Notes on their website for this series in the future.

RRP $12.99 
More books in this series to come. Watch out for 'Charlotte and the Golden Promise' by Sandy McKay - coming soon.

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