Matilda Woods: The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator (Scholastic 2018)
Maria Kuzniar: The Ship of Shadows (Puffin Books – Penguin Random House 2020)
There are those who love it, there are those who are afraid of it, but everyone finds the sea interesting. In these two books, the sea plays a very important role and shows its different faces.
Australian writer Matilda Woods debut book, The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker is a beautiful tale about loss and finding family. Her second book, The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator, deals with a similarly important topic. Despite the serious subject, the atmosphere of the book is not sad but hopeful. The city of Nordlor, on the shores of one of the great fjords leading to the North Sea, is also called the Village of One Thousand Ships because, being no other building material, they build houses from the timber of ships that have been washed aground for centuries. One night, a fortune teller said to Captain Britt that after his six daughters, a wise and brave son will finally be born. Nine months later, however, another daughter is born. Although Oona is as wise and brave as predicted, her family still doesn’t love her. The little girl, to prove herself, runs away and goes hunting with her father. During the adventure, however, she has to realize that there are living things that are much more interesting than a whale, and in comparison with being tolerated by the others, self-acceptance is more important.
Maria Kuzniar, like her protagonist, Aleja, is always planning her next adventure. However, Aleja had not yet been part of an adventure. She lives with her father, her brothers and grandmother and works in the family tavern. She doesn’t have a friend either, because she can’t play with the boys because she’s a girl, and the girls exclude her because she’s too wild. And except an odd old sailor, only she believes in magic. One night, however, the Ship of Shadows, known from legends, harbors in the port of Seville. Leaving her family behind, she joins the crew of all-women, where she finally feels at home: she can travel the seas as a pirate while searching for mysterious treasures. By the end of the trip, however, Aleja will have to decide whether to return home to her family or stay in her chosen home. In middle grade novels, the protagonist usually has no family, so they are free to start new adventures as they have nothing to lose, but here the writer depicts a real problem of what happens when one has to choose. In the book, in addition to a realistic description of the cities – Seville and Marrakesh – the writer also accurately depicts the characters, along with all their flaws, making the story seem even more real. The sequel, Secrets of the Stars, was released this summer.
I would love to recommend both books to those who have already found their place in the world and to those who are still searching.