There’s something a little bit eerie about the fact that a few minutes after I picked up Abel Tasman to read it in so I could write this review, Radio New Zealand National broadcast a piece marking the 375th anniversary of Tasman and his crew making first contact with Ngāti Tumatakokiri. It was purely a coincidence, but a tad spooky all the same.
Telling the story of how Abel Tasman came to be in that particular time and place, and what happened afterwards, this book is perfect for middle-upper primary readers (ages about 7 up) as a starting point into the European exploration of New Zealand. The text is easy to understand, balanced in terms of perspective, and follows a straightforward sequence. There are lots of footnotes to explain words used in multiple languages, and a helpful glossary at the back which adds more depth to the narrative.
For me, the highlight of an already good book is the illustrations. My mouth actually dropped open on about the third page, as the use of light was just stunning. The illustrations have a clarity and almost photographic reality that is just magic, and which I’m more used to seeing in art galleries. They are truly beautiful, and will keep me coming back to the story long after I’ve memorised the text. An extra special touch is the use of historic maps and drawings, at least some of which were drawn by Isaac Gilsemans, the fleet merchant in the expedition. Children will love this; and if they don’t notice it themselves, draw their attention to the dates on each set of end papers, and ask them what they notice.
As well as being essential for school and public libraries, this book would make a fantastic addition to the shelf of any curious child who appreciates a good story and asks lots of “why?” and “then what happened?” questions.
Reviewed by Rachel Moore
Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands
by Maria Gill
Illustrated by Marco Ivančić
Published by Scholastic