Set in the 1600’s, My Father’s Islands was researched from Abel Tasman’s own journal and is quite factual, almost academic in style. Hence a nine year old may have difficulty staying motivated to read the entire book, but a slightly more mature child or one interested in ships and history would benefit from reading it. Adults too may enjoy this title.
I was amazed at how Tasman navigated treacherous waters halfway round the world on several different occasions to discover new lands when the likes of computerised airplanes or satellite navigation in boats were totally unknown. It was a matter of getting out handwritten maps, measuring and observing the distance of stars and other celestial bodies, knowing the ocean and, above all, forging ahead with a bit of a prayer and a great deal of wisdom through years of experience about the sea’s ways. Tasman is shown as giving thanks to God for each new journey safely completed.
It is popular in young adult and children’s books for father figures to be characterised as abusive or weak, insipid or emotionally absent from their families. In many of these books father figures are given no possibility for forgiveness or redemption. It’s vital for authors to give us realistic writing with both the good and the bad and most importantly, strong, caring father figures. Mattingley succeeds in doing this whilst giving us an appreciation of the hazards and trials of life for an ocean explorer in the 1600s.
She gives the story warmth by telling it through the eyes of Tasman’s daughter, Claesgen, who eagerly awaits her father’s return from each new journey of discovery (which sometimes took years!). The character of Claesgen is based on Tasman’s real life daughter of the same name. Ship faring men could be absent from their families for years, with little or no communication in between, but we witness the young girl’s respect and admiration for her father as she eagerly awaits his return. In writing My Father’s Islands, Mattingley has filled a gap about a man whose history has not been documented as prolifically as many other early explorers of Australia.
Footnotes on each page explain words such as “cross staff” and “astrolabe” which the reader will appreciate in gaining an understanding of historical aspects and navigation. There are a couple of pictures of naked islanders on boats from the original drawings in Tasman’s journal which I felt were perhaps unnecessary in a children’s book.
Mattingley was the 2011 Australian nomination for the Hans Christian Anderson Award for a writer whose complete works have made an important contribution to children’s literature. A wonderful writer offering a variety of topics including children conquering their fears, unemployment, family, home, school and community, plus more serious topics such as refugees and war. She certainly has something for everyone from toddlers, teens, to adults in her 51 books. My Father’s Islands is available through fishpond.com.
A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time mother of two.