Nancy Bentley, by Tracey Hawkins

Nancy Bentley lives with her family at Port Arthur in Tasmania. When she is bitten by a snake, things are looking grim. There is no doctor nearby and no time to get her to one further away. Her father rows her out to a naval ship anchored just off-shore. The captain takes Nancy aboard but now he has his own dilemma – females are not allowed aboard ship. His solution is to admit Nancy as a sailor, making her the first Australian female sailor and saving her life. Jacqui Grantford’s illustrations are retro in style and fit the story perfectly. Endpapers are collaged extracts of actual historical documents.

Australians take many things for granted, one of them being access to medical services (in most parts of the country). But in times gone by, it was not always so. Today there are treatments for most snake bites too, but again, they are much more recent developments. Living in Australia has always required Australians to be resourceful and innovative, and in this case a father does what he needs to save his child . The Captain also responds in a human rather than an officious way, and finds a solution that obeys ‘the rules’ while saving a child’s life. The notion of a young girl sailor is novel and fascinating and it’s a great way to engage young readers with history. It shows that history is about real people living real lives, not just facts and figures that sit heavily on a page. Recommended for primary readers.

Nancy Bentley, Tracey Hawkins and Jacqui Grantford
New Frontier Publishing 2011
ISBN: 9781921042768

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author