The Mapmaker’s Race by Eirlys Hunter
Finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adult 2019.
The Santander children temporarily lose their parents just as they are about to begin the race that offers their last chance of escaping poverty. Sal, Joe, Francie and Henry must work together to map a rail route through an uncharted wilderness in 28 days. If they win, they will be able to launch a search to find their father. The children, led by Sal, overcome many obstacles posed by nature – bears, bats, cliff falls, impossible weather, and not to mention the other teams in the race. Racing against five teams of adults that refuse to play by the rules, the Santander children face some big odds.
Full of action from the very first page, The Mapmaker’s Race is an imaginative fantasy story. Each child in the story has a distinct voice and feel. Sal is the strong leader and mathematician, while little Henry provides the comic relief. Twins Joe and Francie each have their own personalities, but it is Francie with the special talent. She can ‘fly’, leaving her body to get a bird’s eye impression of the land below them, an interesting and important trait when you’re a map maker trying to find a new route.
The dynamics of family are gently explored in the story. There’s also a gentle challenge of gender stereotypes in the skills the children bring – as well as Sal as mathematician, also travelling with the children is Beckett, a teenager who helped them at the start of the race. He takes on the role of nurturer, ensuring the children are fed throughout the journey. Themes of teamwork, perseverance and of the strength and resilience of children are also present.
The story is interesting enough. It’s a sort of magical world, with lots of new inventions, but still solid and steeped in reality that younger readers won’t have to strain too much to conjure the world up.
Each chapter ends with a countdown of how many days are left before the race is up. This brings a sense of urgency to the story. However, the pace does slow in parts and seem to drag, while other action-packed moments fly by. The ending was a little too predictable and ‘easy’, but enjoyable all the same.
Hunter writes beautifully, with gorgeous almost poetical prose. There are scenes that are so beautifully and wondrously written, it should be criminal. The book would make for a wonderful read aloud for middle to upper primary schools.
Each chapter begins with lovely illustrations by Kirsten Slade, a Wellington artist. Her illustrations detail the Santander’s journey, mimicking the map Francie is drawing.
Overall, an imaginative adventure story that will appeal immensely to younger readers.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Gecko Press, RRP $19.99