The Bold Ship Phenomenal
by Laura Findlay
I read an excellent book yesterday. A really great one. The Bold Ship Phenomenal by Sarah Johnson is a children’s book and a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children. It’s about a young boy Malachi and his daring adventure in a wonderful New Zealand setting. Malachi finds a ship in a bottle at the beach, but this piece of treasure is more magical than he could have imagined. I’m reluctant to write more because I don’t want to give away the best parts. Let’s just say there’s pirates and stowaways, arduous journeys and bravery and delightful New Zealand creatures like pupurangi (can snails be delightful?)
I was wrapped up in Johnson’s prose as I journeyed with Malachi through the story. Johnson delights in words and she doesn’t hold back – verisimilitude, exactitude, cognisable, devisible – but she has fun with these lists of head-scratchers so they don’t detract from the story. She uses similar jargon when describing the ship and so the story comes alive with detail. In fact the detail was one of my favourite parts of the book, it’s rich and well-researched and I could envision the Waipoua forest, the winding roads of rural New Zealand and the beach near Malachi’s home.
Malachi loved the beach. He loved the way it had no edges. How the places where an edge might be, like the low tide line or the peaks of the dunes, were actually the start of something else: the land or the sea.
I also loved the imagination and extended metaphor in the story. It’s a story that will invite many ponderings, long after the final page is turned and, I suspect, lengthy discussions and maybe even a trip to the beach for some serious fossicking.
Lastly, I liked how the story was a rollicking-good adventure but also, subtly educational. I think the intriguing nautical terms would encourage further research and the under-current message of ‘science is interesting’ would poke about in the reader’s mind for some time.
Science teaches you to really look at things…if you can do that, if you can learn to really look at the world, then you realise that all of it is amazing, absolutely all of it.
Yours at sea,