Tag Archives: Slavery

The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French


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The Schoolmaster’s Daughter – Jackie French

Harper Collins Australia

May 2020

ISBN: 9781460757710

ISBN 10: 1460757718

RRP: $17.99

We know so well Jackie’s passion for and skill with historical fiction and when she combines it, as she has with this new novel, with her own family history the result is even more sensational.

Australia at the point of Federation: a new century, a new nation and a new and radical shift in the traditional society and expectations – for some.

Hannah moves, with her schoolmaster father, her liberally-minded mother and her young brother from rural NSW to far north Queensland, deep in the heart of cane country where long-held prejudices and practices exist.

When their ship founders and subsequently breaks up just off the coast of its destination and the men of the party foolishly trek into the unknown, Hannah along with her mother and brother are rescued by a young Islander boy named Jamie. In spite of the evident prejudice of their fellow female travellers especially when faced with Jamie’s clearly white mother, Hannah and Mama begin the first tentative steps towards what becomes a life-long friendship. They go even further when Hannah, denied any further education by her conservative father, and Jamie, denied education by virtue of his colour and birth circumstances, begin to take lessons with Mama, who flouts the convention of being subservient to her husband.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg as the new century and the progress towards the women’s vote and other liberations is undermined by the short-sighted government that threatens the very existence of any Islanders indentured to the cane-barons such as the man who employs Hannah’s father.

Family drama, threats by the hardened suspicious townsfolk, secrets long-held by neighbours all impact on the family, driving Hannah and her mother further and further towards an escape from the tyranny of both husband/father and their close society. It’s not just Hannah and Jamie fighting for their right to education any more, it’s about a true equality for all and Hannah’s mother is well-placed to act with courage and determination to free herself and her children at a time when such actions were almost unheard of in ‘polite society’.  How very proud Jackie must feel to have the inspiration of the women in her family to create this fictionalised (but close to truth) narrative history.

This is fascinating and terrible, at times, as a very ugly side (yet another one) of Australia’s history unfolds and the depth of the struggles by the women who came before us is revealed.

Once more I was completely enthralled in and enriched by Jackie’s historical revelations – both the personal and the Australian aspects. In every book I learn things I’ve never known and in a way, that makes them vibrant and memorable. As always this is a superb way to introduce young (or older) readers to little-known (and very probably well-hidden) darker sides of a new nation and certainly to the very real and often tragic plight of women of the time.

As always, I cannot recommend this highly enough particularly for readers from around 13 years upwards.



Crossing Ebenezer Creek – Tonya Bolden



Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 01-08-2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781681196992
Imprint: Bloomsbury YA
RRP $14.99


The wonderful thing about well-written, well-researched historical fiction is that you don’t just learn new information but that you can immerse yourself in the period and gain a far greater understanding than dry textbooks will offer. I openly admit that I know very little about the American Civil War beyond a little reading and several movies (after all, who hasn’t watched Gone With the Wind at least a dozen times?).

Hence I had no idea about the freed slaves who were part of Sherman’s march across Georgia – nor indeed the dreadful ending so many of them had. Naturally I knew that not all the Yankees were accepting of the freed slaves but to read of such vile wickedness is quite confronting.

Mariah and her young brother Zeke are freed from their heinous slavery and are two of the hundreds in the march. Caleb, a free-born man, is an indispensable assistant to the kind and compassionate Captain Galloway and takes on the role of protector, and indeed would be family to them both.

Along the often harsh march the ex-slaves share their various dreadful histories revealing much of a truly horrendous endurance.  But it is not all history as many perish at the hands of cruel supposed liberators even in the midst of their hopes and dreams of freedom.

The terrible crime at Ebenezer Creek needs to be told and told it is in the context of real human anguish and pain. Bolden has done a remarkable job of bringing this to the attention of young readers with the dignity and empathy that its victims deserve.

The frightening aspect is that so little has changed in many ways – either in the USA or here with our own First Australians – who are often still victimised and persecuted simply on the basis of race. Hopefully, there are enough of us who are prepared to continue to stand up to this schism in our society and eventually eradicate the evil forever.

Highly recommended for discerning readers from around 12 years upwards.


Just a Girl – Jackie French




Harper Collins Australia

        ISBN: 9781460753095

  ISBN 10: 1460753097


August 2018

RRP: $16.99

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.

I’m not a Catholic – and though I was raised an Anglican I am not particularly religious in the Christian sense. However, since losing a child I do feel an affinity with Mary, who was a real person who lost her son in a terrible way.  Moreover I am fascinated by ancient history and in particular the ‘story behind the stories of the Bible’.

I am repeatedly awe-struck at Jackie French’s unparalleled ability to breathe life into history and this new narrative is no exception. I spent a few hours of my weekend on a sojourn in Roman-occupied Judea, circa 71 AD, and my senses were fully transported by Jackie’s marvelous writing: the warmth of the Middle Eastern sun, the chill of the winter rain, the surrounding smells of grass and goat and the hazy wood smoke, the taste of dried figs and sweetened wine and the dreadful clashing of swords and screams of victims.

Judith is fourteen years old, one of four daughters – two older and one younger – living with her mother and great-grandmother in a small rural village. With all their men and older boys away as part of the rebellion against Rome, the village women have had to adapt to different ways and in particular, Judith now relishes her role in minding the sheep and expertly using her slingshot to hunt meat for her family.

When her great-grandmother Rabba wakes her one night and demands to be taken down to the wadi and then sends Judith back for her little sister, the two girls have no idea that Rabba’s foreboding of disaster is about to eventuate.

The entire village razed by a ruthless Roman legion, the three survivors remain concealed safely in a cave, long ago prepared by Rabba and before long are joined by a young Roman slave as well as their rather reluctant goat.

The icy winter that follows with its many trials and struggles to overcome is often relieved by Rabba’s story-telling and feasts around the fire. In particular Caius, a ‘secret’ Christian all his life, longs to hear more of Rabba’s childhood friend Maryiam of Nazareth but Rabba is always reticent about the woman. When Rabba finally tells her story it becomes clear that the simple village girl who became the mother of Jesus was gentle, loving and courageous, and a faithful friend. Rabba herself is scornful of the ‘messiah myth’, her only interest being that of the woman who was her childhood friend and a good person.

People tend to forget that many bible characters were real historical people given the mystique with which many of them are imbued. For me it is the fascination of piecing together shards of information to build a picture of the actual circumstances (hence quite an addiction to documentaries on the history channel!).

Jackie has taken what little actual detail about the person is available about Maryiam/Mary,  and woven it with general factual information of the times to create a thoroughly plausible account of one family’s survival against the might of the Roman Empire.

This book will hold a valuable place on any library shelf or indeed, home bookshelf. I will be particularly promoting it to our Study of Religion and History teachers as part of my ‘read around your topic’ encouragement.

I highly recommend it to you for readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Teaching notes also available Just a Girl TNs FINAL