Wednesday, April 18, 2007

KAURI IN MY BLOOD The Diary of Laura Ann Findlay, The Coromandel, 1921-24.
By Joanna Orwin Scholastic NZ$ 17.00

This is the 15th story in the Scholastic My Story series.
Before starting to read this new title I asked Penny Scown, Senior Editor Scholastic NZ for the rationale behind the series.

She advised:

“We began the series in 2003.
The concept is to make our history interesting for NZ children by creating a fictional diary of a child (around 12 years of age) who lived through a certain period or event. Topics covered to date include disasters, such as the eruption of Mt Tarawera, or the Tangiwai and Wahine disasters, alongside stories that exist simply to give an idea of life in a particular community or time, eg the Dalmatian community in Dargaville in the 1920s, the German community of Sarau (Upper Moutere) in the late 1800s and the Chinese community in Auckland during the second world war. Many of the stories have been written by proven authors such as David Hill, Shirley Corlett, Joanna Orwin and Fleur Beale, with others written by people who simply have a special interest in the story itself, such as Eva Wong Ng and Amelia Batistich.

Each fictional diary concludes with several pages of Historical Note at the end of the book, which puts the story into the context of the time, and several pages of contemporary photographs are also included to show children more detail of what life at the time was like. The series has been much acclaimed, particularly by schools and libraries, and My Story titles have been shortlisted for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards for each of the past four years (ie since they began!).”

Joanna Orwin is not only a very fine writer of books for young people she is also the author of “Kauri:witness to a nation’s history” published by New Holland in 2004 and so is very well qualified to write this story.

Perhaps the best way to describe the book is by quoting from Joanna Orwin’s
Letter to the Reader which appears at the beginning of the book.

“In August 2004 I spent four days in Whangarei recording Ruth (Micky) Murray then 93 years old, as she told me about her 1920s childhood in the kauri bush camps in the Kauaeranga Valley (Coromandel). The outcome was a set of fascinating tapes that covered her life working in the timber industry.
Scholastic’s My Story series seemed an ideal way of sharing her wonderful childhood memories more widely.
Micky’s childhood was wild and free, and most unusual for a girl in the 1920’s. She wore trousers, rode horses, swore like a trooper, and spent time exploring and hunting in the bush, first with her much older brothers and later with Jack Murray, another child growing up in the bush camps. With Mick’s permission I set to and wrote Kauri In My Blood.
Laura Ann Findlay’’s fictional diary is based closely on Mickey’s personal story and the true events that took place mostly in the Kauaeranga Valley during 1921-24. Because this is a fictionalized account and many of the charactyers are fictional, I have also given fictional names to the real people who lived and worked in the kauri industry.”

This is a most appealing book in every way.
Scholastic have done a very fine job of design and at the rear of the book are historical notes and 12 pages of photographs which illustrate excellently life in the kauri forests.

Ever since my early childhood days I have had a fondness for fiction which featured a map or maps. All the way back to Milly Molly Mandy and much later Lord of the Rings and Watership Down are some that come to mind. There are countless others.
So it was with much pleasure that I found a map of the Kauaeranga Valley included here.

Anne Morgan, Library Adviser with the National Library School Services has a special interest in NZ historical fiction for children, and this is what she had to say about the My Story series:

"I think this series has definitely helped promulgate a return to popularity for the genre - certainly when we compare the My Story books with other historical novels written right up the 1970s, we see (now) a real emphasis
on a wide range of personal experiences where once there was a concentration on very generic "European early settler" stories. I am generalising and there are exceptions to this of course - (Jack Lasenby's Mangrove Summer being one of my all time favourites), but the My Story series really highlights the diversity of the culture, heritage and experiences of New
Zealanders and, written to a particular format and formula as they are, provide excellent compare and contrast opportunities for young people who choose to read more than one.

This is not to say they are "formulaic" though - the fact that various accomplished NZ authors for young people are commissioned to write them, means that quality, freshness and originality are maintained. I visited a Kura Kaupapa yesterday and the principal there mentioned that she had just read Fleur Beale's "A new song in the land" - she said that she couldn't believe that a Pakeha had written it - such is the accuracy of the details and in particular, the protagonist's voice - high praise indeed I think.

Feedback from teachers and librarians has been really positive - the My Story books are extremely popular in schools and seem to attract an audience
of intermediate right through to senior secondary students. I always ask for feedback and contributions when I present my workshop and without fail I get comments from people who have read various titles because their
"Grandfather, Mother, Great Aunt etc. lived in Dunston; came to New Zealand in the 1940s; were Chinese migrants; were Dalmatian gumdiggers; were on the Wahine" - or whatever - in other words - people (young and old alike) really do seem to relate to the settings and experiences in the books."

A fine piece of publishing, congratulations to all concerned.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a wonderful series, I will look out for them and encourage our local school to get them for the libarary if they don't already have them. My forebears were involved in the kauri milling so I'm especially interested in this one.

NZBookgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NZBookgirl said...

One small criticism of the series from a production point of view is that they differ in format and presentation. Of the three examples I have nearby on my shel, all use different fonts and layouts with the latest one featuring lined pages to look like an exercise book. Not so bad I guess, but one of the books is even a different height to the others which I find odd in a series, which one might wish to keep together on the shelf - well I do and it might seem a bit fussy but I like a set to look like a set! I would have expected consistency within the series. As to the content, I find them mainly excellent, with the odd one more informative than inspirational, but creating a great record of our history, distant and more recent such as Bill Nagelkerke's 'Sitting on the Fence' set in 1981.