When I first picked up this book I was curious to see how a whole story could centre around a couple of Kiwi boys living with their parents on the West Coast and playing in the bush. I now realise what a stupid, modern world assumption I was making. I only need to think back 50 years to my own childhood to remember the joys of the outdoors before devices took over.
Nine-year-old Jack and his seven year old brother, Charlie, live with their parents and baby brother at Ross on the West Coast. Their Dad is a bushman, their Mum a keen gardener and they delight in the world on the doorstep. The chapters lead us through their world from Camping and Rafting, Going Bush, Huntin’ and Shootin’ to fishing. They also help out in the garden, attend the local school and learn all the household tasks essential for survival: wood chopping and stacking, and cooking.
Illustrated with superb photographs, this is a tale of simple pleasures and exciting challenges. The book is written by Jack, and it is his voice we hear throughout. I worried that the large amount of text would be a challenge for younger readers, but quickly realised that the language is easy to understand and includes the vocabulary and expressions of a nine-year-old. I could see this as a great read aloud for a family but a read alone for a capable eight-year-old.
Jack takes us in to his world with a keen eye for detail. I was impressed by the lessons his parents were giving about safety and ethics.
‘We only shoot what we can eat…Dad says it’s good ethics. Having good ethics means doing the right thing all the time – even when no one is watching.’
So this is like a travel guide to the West Coast bush, with an entertaining and informative guide. The fact that Jack is nine simply means we get a better view of the ground than normal. Each chapter contains the details of the activity, photos of the setting and action and some deep philosophy from a nine-year-old.
I grew up reading David Boy of the High Country, the story of David Innes and his family in the MacKenzie basin. My own children also enjoyed this story as we had holidays in Twizel. It too had wonderful photos (black and white) and inspired us with tales of Correspondence school and farming antics.
This book deserves to become a classic for the next generation of kids living or holidaying on the West Coast. In a world dominated by the internet and technology, this is a journey to the back of beyond and to another time. I loved it.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the Bush
by Jack Marcotte
Published by Penguin Books NZ