Kākāpō Keeper by Gay Buckingham
Andrew is fourteen years old when he leaves Dunedin for the isolated Dusky Sounds in the 1890s. He has a new job – as the assistant of Richard Henry, Chief Conservator on Resolution Island. Andrew thinks he’s going to spend all his time catching birds, but when he arrives and finds out exactly how far away the island is from everything else, how cold and damp it is, and how many sandflies there are, all he can can think about is how much he wishes he were home with his best friend Arthur. Mr Henry’s jokes are bad, and he wants Andrew to help him build a house and make a garden. And he wants them to eat scrambled penguin eggs. Disgusting! The one bright spot is Lassie, the dog Mr Henry has brought to help them find the birds.
This is a story of historical New Zealand with a main character that teenagers of today can relate to. Buckingham has made sure this is an informative read. Not only is her meticulous research into the life of an 1890s bird conservationist woven seamlessly throughout the text, there are regular drawings of native birds and notes on them, as well as photos and historical notes at the back. It is perfect for school libraries and classrooms. Andrew tells his own story in the short diary entries at the start of each chapter, which draw the reader in.
As well as a historical novel, this is also a coming of age story. As Andrew learns more about the island and its inhabitants – the beautiful birds they have come to look after – he finds himself appreciating its wild and rustic beauty. He and Mr Henry have amassed a collection of (bird) friends, and Andrew realises why it is so important to protect them. He loves the thrill of chasing down the birds, but he begins to see why Mr Henry loves the birds. He learns to cook – fish, and yes, penguin eggs – and his fifteen months on the island soon become over two years.
Kākāpō Keeper is an absorbing read for 8-14 year olds. Its local perspective, acutely relevant conservation themes and well researched undertones look set to make it a New Zealand classic.
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley
One Tree House