Those Shipwreck Kids

Back in the eighties, when our kids were young, we stumbled across a long-abandoned campsite in NZ’s Marlborough Sounds while cruising on our gaff ketch. The large mildewed canvas tent had half collapsed, and on the outside table, signs of a hastily abandoned meal had us all guessing.

The background to this discovery is still a mystery, but strangely enough, we chanced upon a very similar circumstance in 1999, this time in Sydney Harbour. A friend took us aboard a large abandoned ketch on a mooring in Balmain. The hatches had rotted and oily rainwater partly covered its rusting engine. Ripped Christmas wrapping paper and a couple of toys were visible on the dinette seats. But it was under the cockroach infestation that  we had our most most bizarre discovery – on the saloon table, largely covered by a layer of dead cockroaches, were similar remains of an abandoned meal. We were able to identify the ‘use by’ date on the wrappings of a Christmas cake. It had been nearly three years since this family’s Christmas dinner had been tragically interrupted.

Although we did hear the background to this second circumstance, I have been able to meld both discoveries into a rather less tragic fictional thread in Those Shipwreck Kids  – the third book in my ‘Those Kids’ series. In this story, the Tasmanian kids have arrived in New Zealand and the tables have turned. Unlike the previous two stories where the Kiwi twins were discovering aspects of an unfamiliar foreign land whilst cruising Australian waters, now it is the Tasmanian kids who are experiencing earthquakes, unfamiliar bird-life and strange tides.

It is the official campaign to restore New Zealand’s unique bird-life which has provided the environmental theme which is woven into the storyline. We have recently returned to New Zealand waters after over a decade away, and have been delighted to note the increased birdlife throughout many of the bush-clad hills and valleys as we have sailed northwards. During the course of their expeditioning, my fictional kids are being introduced to concepts of bio-security and predator control.

But of course it is the shipwreck theme which will probably grab the younger readers’ imaginations. My own kids have great memories of exploring the hulk of the old HMS Sparrow, a gunship which once helped end the African slave trade (and was later renamed as TS Amokura, commanded by Shackleton’s captain,). It provides the perfect setting for a little misadventure experienced by the kids in this story.

There’s rather less obvious Arthur Ransome  influence in this latest book, but I’d like to feel that there’s a tablespoon of Swallowdale and even a teaspoon of The Big Six in this volume. Meanwhile I’ve discovered that these kids’ are, inevitably, developing more complex interrelationships as their shared experiences continue.

Sample reviews:

A complex tale, realistic and fascinating, with characters we feel we know as real people. The reading level allows older elementary readers to enjoy the basic story line, but the depth of issues makes this a great read for teens and adults, too.

Elizabeth Jolley (Editor, North Pole News – Oregon, USA)

The environmental message is clear, but not laboured, and is leavened by exciting contests between both the boats… The mystery of the abandoned camp is finally resolved in a spectacular – if somewhat unexpected – denouement.”

­– Mark Walker (Editor, Furthest South, magazine of The Arthur Ransome Society in Australia and New Zealand.)

A sensible, inspiring story with plenty of practical information. It should be compulsory reading for every adventure loving kid.

Petr Baum (Czech Republic)

In this third episode, the promise of the first two books is fulfilled. The characters are becoming more developed and the situations they deal with are more complicated. The increasing maturity of the kids allows Jon Tucker to explore more thoroughly the themes of independence and responsibility that were hinted at in the earlier books.

Jon Tucker writes in a deceptively straightforward way – the language may not be complex, but it manages to convey messages on several levels. I know I have to wait for episode 4, but I don’t want to.

Jeremy M. Kriewaldt (Amazon)