cover image The Wreck of the Zanzibar

The Wreck of the Zanzibar

Michael Morpurgo. Viking Children's Books, $14.99 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-670-86360-0

Morpurgo (The War of Jenkins' Ear) spins a tale as compelling as it is unusual in its setting and plot. The story unfolds in journal entries and watercolor illustrations made by 14-year-old Laura Perryman in 1907 and 1908. She tells of her life on storm-battered Bryher Island, among Britain's Scilly Isles, where her family's survival depends on the mercy of the elements and, especially, the sea. This winter is particularly harsh, with the family's cows sickening and dying, the weather destroying houses and boats, the food stores dwindling and Laura's twin brother, Billy, running away to join a ship's crew. All anyone can hope for is a shipwreck, that the people of Bryher might salvage its cargo. As bleak as Laura's days are, she is gentle enough to protect a sea turtle that might otherwise serve as food, and hopeful enough to dream of rowing in the island gig despite repeated declarations that a girl will never be allowed to handle one of the oars. Laura gets her chance in a dramatic storm and shipwreck, and she helps save the island. A hearty, old-fashioned survival tale that should appeal equally to both sexes. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)