Wednesday, 20 June 2012

My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages

My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages by Christobel Mattingley (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780642277367
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What a fantastic book! I read My Father's Islands in one sitting. It is an account of the great Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s journeys of discovery which took him into uncharted waters and led him to find islands previously unknown to Europeans.

The book is told from the perspective of Tasman’s young daughter from his first marriage, Claesgen. While Claesgen’s inquisitive and bright personality are entirely fictional, the accounts of Tasman’s journeys are 100% accurate.

Claesgen gives a real sense of who her father was, not only as an accomplished seaman and navigator, but also as a man. She reveals Tasman’s triumphs and disappointments and the appalling treatment of people, both sailors and natives, by the Dutch East Indies Company which had thoroughly unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved on these voyages and only assessed success in monetary terms.

Christobel wrote My Father’s Islands when the National Library of Australia contacted her to ask if she would write a children’s story around one of the items in its Treasure Gallery. When she spotted the portrait of Tasman with his second wife Jannetje and Claesgen she knew this was a way to tell the story of a giant contributor to modern Australia through a child’s eyes. Remarkably, for a man whose achievements are integral to establishment of our nation, his efforts have been grossly undervalued by Australians. Very few books have been published here on his journeys.

Throughout the book, are prints of original maps and drawings of Tasman's voyages. The copious footnotes on the page are a boon to younger readers, clarifying sailing and Dutch terminology without having to flick back and forth and interrupt reading enjoyment.

My Father's Islands is Christobel Mattingley's 51st book. She has been nominated for, and been the recipient of, many gongs for her books including the Children’s Book Council of Australia inaugural award for a book for junior readers, Kids Own Australia Literature Awards, International Board of Books for Young People’s Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Alice Award from the Society of Women’s Writers.

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