Author(s): Eirlys Hunter
Four children temporarily lose their parents just as they are about to begin the race that offers their last chance of escaping poverty. Their task is to map a rail route through an uncharted wilderness. They overcome the many obstacles posed by nature, bears, bees, bats, river crossings, cliff falls, impossible weather, but can they survive the treachery of their competitors? This is a fast-paced and charming novel. It's children are brave and competent but not always right. It's world is magical enough to be intriguing but close enough to our own to keep the reader on firm ground.
The best stories involve adventures without any adults interfering and Eirlys Hunter's new novel, The Mapmakers' Race, is a fantastic example of that. Five intrepid kids and their parrot (called Carrot!) encounter lots of tricky and dangerous escapades as they clamber over mountains and wade through rivers in a quest to beat the adult teams all vying for a bag of golden guineas.
After being separated from their mother on the way to the town of Grand Prospect, 14-year-old Sal, 11-year-old twins Francie and Joe, and 5-year-old Humphrey Santander decide to enter the Great Mapmakers' Race on their own. They have 28 days to find and map the best route through the mountains for a new railway line...and 28 days to survive in the wilderness surrounded by treacherous adults.
The characters are well-written and believable - the kids bicker and whine but also look out for each other and pull together (sometimes only just in the nick of time). And if you love maps (if you don't, you will by the end of this book), Kirsten Slade's illustrations are wonderful and really bring the journey and mapmaker extraordinaire Francie's incredible skills to life. Don't be surprised if the kids want to tie an altimeter to the back of a cart and head off into the hills.
A little bit steampunk and a little bit magical, with mechanical horses and luggage carried by clouds, The Mapmakers' Race is a really exciting and mostly realistic family adventure. The ticking of the 28-day clock makes for a pacy read with the tension building almost unbearably towards the end. It would make a great read-aloud for kids aged 5-10 and would definitely be enjoyed by those a little older (say, my age - Lucy). It's a little scary in places but, just like Humphrey in one of the delightful night time storytelling sessions, sometimes we like scary.
- Lucy & Ruth
Eirlys Hunter is a London-born fiction writer who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has published seven books for children as well as a novel and short stories for adults. Hunter teaches writing for children at the IIML at Victoria University.
Eirlys Hunter has lived in Manila, Singapore and the Middle East. She has worked behind a bar, primary school teaching, cleaning a cliff-top fort, sorting mail and sending sand to Saudi Arabia. Hunter has always loved maps—imagining the landscape they’re showing and what might happen there, as well as how to get from one place to another. Her obsession with maps sent her to Cambridge University to study geography. When it turned out that maps didn’t come into the course, she spent her time acting in plays instead.