Sunday, February 4, 2018

Stowaway by Karen Hesse

2018 has started off as a very busy year, with very little time for blogging. My favourite read of January was What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and The Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro. Shapiro reinvents biography by looking at what six different famous women ate, and how it influenced their stories. The section on Eleanor Roosevelt's complicated relationship with food during her period as First Lady was particularly fascinating.

I’ve also been writing with great focus, particularly on my memoir, Searching For Rob, which is about meeting my husband, Rob, losing him, and then chasing across the Indian subcontinent into Nepal. An excerpt from the book just came out in the Canadian literary magazine, Prairie Fire. If you read the excerpt, which is called “Paul,” you might wonder where the searching for Rob bit fits in, and who this Paul person is. Rob comes into the story later. 

The book I’ve been reading with the most absorption these days, Stowaway by Karen Hesse, is a one I’m reading to my younger son. I actually read this book while I was breast feeding him ten years ago, and it’s been on my list of books to share with him when he was old enough.

Stowaway is based on the real expedition of Captain Cook from 1768 to 1770, in which Cook was looking
for a new continent. He never got far enough south to find Antarctica, but he did map out New Zealand and the east coast of Australia, then called New Holland. Stowaway is narrated in journal format by an eleven-year-old stowaway named Nick, who boards the ship the Endeavour to flee an abusive school master, and then an abusive butcher to whom he is apprenticed. Nick narrates the constant toil on the ship, the dangers of sea travel from unfriendly natives, scurvy and the dangers of the Great Barrier Reef, and the dangers of being the youngest member on a ship.

One of the best parts of reading this book is that my son and I are able to chart the journey both on the map on the book fly, and on Google Earth. Each chapter leads us to videos about the Great Barrier Reef, or the beaches of Tahiti. We are also enjoying looking up all the animals, plants and odd foods that are new to us, such as the blue-footed boobie, the grampus, a kind of dolphin, and portable soup, which is reconstituted dried meat. There’s also great pictures online of models of the Endeavour, including the pinnace (a kind of small boat) that Nick first hid in as a stowaway.

My son and I have spent a lot of time in the world of Harry Potter, Narnia and more recently, Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of Nihm. He's entered each mythical world with great focus and attention. Now he's entering the world of Tahiti, New Guinea and pre-colonial New Zealand with the same curiosity and attention to detail. We’re getting ready for some travel of our own soon. Reading into Nick’s adventures is opening my son’s eyes towards those journeys.

Click above to tour a replica of the HMS Endeavour.