New Zealand RRP:$19.99
It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that I love historical fiction. I love it even more when it has its basis in fact, and doubly so if it is Australian history.
Neridah McMullen stumbled upon a curious story from the past and, understandably, was both intrigued and yet also repulsed by its details. She has taken the bones of that history and woven a narrative that is gentle, endearing, utterly charming and one that will stand the test of time in Australian children’s books. You can read about the actual facts of the incident via the Torquay Musuem without Walls page, and, no doubt, will understand why such an event would spark a writer’s imagination.
Evie lives with her grandfather, a renowned ornithologist, in an big old ramshackle house on the sometimes wild coast of Victoria (surfers will all know the names Breamlea, Torquay, Bells Beach and Bancoora Beach). The pair are both grieving in their own way the loss of Evie’s parents, with Evie having become mute since their deaths. But Evie needs no voice to communicate the way she does with animals and when, walking the beach after a storm as is her habit, she comes across a rhinoceros, she is entranced – though she is not quite sure what kind of animal it is. Her first instinct is to help the poor injured beast and so she leads it calmly back up to the house and the stables where she decides that perhaps for the moment, Rhino should be a secret.
Naturally, it’s quite difficult – if not impossible – to keep a fully grown rhinoceros hidden from the other three pairs of eyes in the household, and soon Grandpa, Cook and Mr Duffer, the general hand, are all completely aware of Rhino.
As the narrative unfolds with Grandpa informing the Melbourne Zoo of the discovery of one of the animals lost in the shipwreck, the arrival of young Mr Henley, the discovery of the young monkeys also survivors of the disaster, the revelation that Mr Henley Snr stole Grandpa’s work, Evie regaining her voice and her love of life, the reader becomes ever more deeply involved with these characters – in particular, Evie and Rhino.Their affinity is a joy and the gentle flow of this story kept me entranced over several nights – as it will, no doubt, also keep your young readers similarly engaged.
It would make a splendid read-aloud for any class from around Year 3 to Year 6 and aside from the lovely characterisations, there would be much to discuss about the evolution of zoos, their role in preserving species and how we, as humans, must have an unwavering commitment to protecting all other animals. Astrid Hicks’ illustrations, particularly of the birds and animals provide a wonderful addition to the text.
It is easy to see why this has impressed so many people (adults) but it is my opinion that it will similarly impress kiddos – and that, after all, is the whole point is it not? Beautifully written and expressed, with themes of loss, love, friendship, honesty, authenticity, empathy and compassion, it is a must have for your mid-primary to early- secondary readers.
Highly recommended for readers from around 10 years upwards.