Matthew Flinders: Adventures on Leaky Ships (Carole Wilkinson, illus by Prue Pittock, Wild Dog)
Children’s narrative nonfiction has come a long way since I was a child, and Carole Wilkinson’s new book about the intrepid Matthew Flinders is a fine example of how enjoyable and instructive books in this genre can be. Flinders’ life was reasonably short, but eventful. He had strong senses of leadership and adventure, and brilliant organisational skills—all of which could make him a likely hero for a boy’s own adventure tale. However, Wilkinson sticks with the facts and in doing so still manages to create a fully fleshed-out character. It’s the inclusion of the smallest details that bring this story to life—Flinders’ favourite book from childhood, his devotion to his wife Ann, his (now-famous) cat Trim—as well as the author’s way of setting the scene with historical facts that never distract from the narrative. Prue Pittock’s illustrations are appealingly childlike and humorous, while still historically accurate. For the observant reader, there is plenty to discover in each spread; exotic flora and fauna, navigational equipment and clothing from the time all enrich a story that is already full of adventure and discovery. Pittock uses negative space to great effect, creating a lightness on each page and never overcrowding the text with images. There are also maps and an illustrated timeline of Flinders’ life, as well as a glossary. This is an excellent book for primary-schoolers, and for adults too.
Louise Pfanner is an author, illustrator and bookseller.