Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

Bridget : An Irish girl’s journey to Moreton Bay in 1848

Bridget new australian

Engaging, Historical Fiction, Part of the A New Australian series

OVERALL: 4.5 4 Stars

Concept:4.5 Stars
Characters:4 Stars
Plot:4 Stars
Writing:4.5 Stars
James Moloney
Omnibus Books

Description: Bridget and her family find themselves thrown out of the house they live in when the land owner decides he would rather farm sheep. With no father to earn a living and provide for them, Bridget, her mother and four siblings have nowhere to go but the workhouse. When an opportunity for a new start in Australia presents itself, their mother encourages Bridget to go. Bridget doesn’t want to leave her family behind, but it’s the only chance her family might have at a better life.

This book is one of the books in the ‘A New Australian’ series. A historical fiction series about early life in Australia, mainly aimed at girls.

Concept: This concept has proven to be a winner with the middle grade girls and as such there is a raft of ‘girls’ to choose from. (Kerenza and Sian are both examples of other books in this series by different authors) My daughter’s name is Bridget so when she saw this book her eyes lit up and she was super eager to read it, despite the fact that I have presented her with ‘Grace’ and ‘Lina’ from the Our Australian Girl series (a similar series, possibly aimed a slightly younger girls) and barely managed to get her to raise an eyebrow, let alone open the book. But she and I loved Bridget and it is a really good example of historical fiction for this age group.

Characters: Bridget, the main protagonist, is a believable character and one that girls between 7 and 10 can really relate to. The interactions she had with her sister were well developed and relevant also. The adults that flitted in and out all did their parts well. I really felt for Bridget and was rooting for her throughout the book. The way she handled herself in some difficult situations showed her mettle and I love a good strong girl character.

Plot: The story flowed well, punctuated with interesting incidents and situations. There was just enough interesting historical fact without going overboard. I also liked the way Moloney was able to portray some lighter, happier moments in what were undoubtably very trying times without shirking away from the death and awful conditions either. It was well balanced and appropriate for this age group.

Writing: This is a well written book. I found it very interesting that a man wrote this book, it being told through the eyes of a young female protagonist (and I guess that’s why James Moloney decided to become J. Moloney for this book) but he did an excellent job. I think there is more detail and less emotion in the book than otherwise might be, were it written by a female, but in this case I just think it makes it more accessible to boys as well which is great. Just goes to show that gender shouldn’t matter when writing nor reading.  J. Moloney did a good job of writing in such a way that the book had a historical feel but a contemporary flow.

PARENTS: This is a great piece of historical fiction that I think would appeal especially to girls aged 8-11. However given that it is written by a man and the way it is written, I believe if you tore the cover off and gave it to a boy they would love it too! 😉 There is some death in this book (a grandmother and sister) so if your child is particularly sensitive to death you might keep that in mind. However there is no real violence or any other strong themes.

Things to ask and discuss:

(If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Being able to recount and articulate ideas from text they have read is an important skill for kids to learn and develop. Also, don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!)

1) Why do you think the landlord was so mean and insisted that Bridget’s family leave his land? Do you think something like that could happen today? (This could lead to an interesting discussion about the rights of renters and landlords today as well as the views of landlords in the 1840s)

2) Did Bridget want to go to Australia? Why did her mother make her?

3) Do you think that Maeve did the right thing when she ran off? Why? Why not?(Maeve runs off and gets married, she is seventeen and leaves with a man to try and eek out a farm in the bush. She leaves Bridget alone working as a maid (indentured servant) for a strict, demanding woman)

4) Why is Bridget’s courage in catching rats so important? (Bridget catches rats aboard the ship, a doctor finds out she is good at it and employs her to catch rats in the hold where his horse is being kept. She learns horse craft from the doctor which at the end of the book helps her get a good job and secure passage to Australia for the rest of her family back in Ireland)

5) What do you think the hardest thing about growing up in the 1840s would have been?


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