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As a primary teacher I have read this book over the past couple of years to my Year 4 class. We all adore it. There is a universal appeal about Michael Morpurgo's books that is inescapable. Even the worst behaved kids in my class were totally mesmerized, hooked to the story line and couldn't wait for their daily fix.
I have often visited Cornwall and the Scilly Isles and each time I read one of Morpurgo's stories set in this landscape it brings to mind the coastline, coves and weather conditions instantly. He is a true master at conjuring up an enduring image of his environment.
The story focuses on a 14 year old girl and her twin brother Billy. I don't want to spoil what happens by telling you the whole tale, but the main point of the book is how Laura copes with the trials and tribulations of her life through the medium of her diary. It is tantalizing to read each episode as if you know her personally.
The greatest episode is the day of the turtle, which my class were so 'on the edge of their seats' about I had to double the reading session that day.
There's nothing soft or fluffy about Michael Morpurgo's writing, he calls a spade a spade and when bad things happen in his books that's how he describes them. The challenges that Laura faces are incredible and in my mind she is the perfect role model for young girls. Strong and courageous but with a heart of gold. Read this to your class, your own kids or to yourself, but have the Kleenex nearby for that tear jerking moment!
The wreck of the Zanzibar
Laura is a 14 year old girl who adores her twin brother, but Billy is growing up. Amid many fights with his father Billy takes off with a sailor with barely a word to his family. Laura and her parents and her aging grandmother are left to fend for themselves through storms, sickness and famine. The story itself is told through Laura's diary, now being read by her great-nephew Micheal, whom she left her diary to in her will.
The illustrations in this edition serve as sketches drawn by Laura when she was writing her diary; some of them span two pages and represent the story very well. For children who have trouble visualising or have only recently begun to move away from picture books, this could be very useful.
Simpler language is used in the narrative, short sentences, but very emotive. Fairly commonly for a diary genre book, a lot of the language is informal, and conversational. Occasionally a larger, less common word crops up, meaning it is good for expanding vocabulary, but not too challenging.
Story moves at a swift pace, plenty of content to keep the reader interested, and the historical context is not a barrier to a slower reader.
This book is a fairly simple story, yet manages to be very touching. Some might find the ending very unlikely, but I think it would encourage children who are inspired by it to go looking for tales of seafaring, as very interestingly, I felt, this story is about the character who was 'left behind' rather than the one that went on the adventure.
I enjoyed this book; it is very short and unimposing yet manages a lot of emotive story in that small space. This is the first Morpurgo book I have read.
I liked the fact that it is from the perspective of the non-obvious character and yet isn't about her wishing she was off adventuring, but is instead about the crisis her family faces.
I would shy away from giving this book to animal-sensitive children, there are some fairly graphic descriptions of dead cattle following a storm that hits the island. Nothing that takes the book out of the 6-12 age range though.
The story begins with Great Aunt Laura dying peacefully at the age of one hundred. At the funeral Michael is given a diary belonging to his great aunt, the book is her story of a few extraordinary months of her life. Along with the diary is a letter telling Michael that the diary will tell him about where Zanzibar came from, at this stage the reader doesn't know who or what Zanzibar is. The Diary of Laura Perryman starts in 1907 on her 14th birthday. She and her family have a farm on Bryher in the Scilly Isles, life is difficult the cows are not milking well,and her father is always finding fault with her twin brother Billy. A schooner called the General Lee runs aground and the Bryher boat is first to it, getting it ashore means work for the Bryher people. But the Laura's joy is shortlived as once the General Lee is repaired her brother runs away to be a cabin boy on it. For the next few months the family and the rest of the islanders suffer from storms and their cows being ill, gradually the people of Bryher are leaving and going to the mainland. During this difficult time Laura helps a leatherback turtle that has been washed up on the beach. Although the family are hungry and could eat it, Laura feeds it and helps it return to the sea. Finally her father decides that they will have to go and live on the mainland, but because of storms during December they cannot leave. During a really violent storm comes a shipwreck, the remaining people of Bryher manage to save it's crew and cargo. This includes brother Billy and some healthy cows. On Christmas Day they find a turtle dead on the beach, but it is not real just a ships figure head. The figure head of the wrecked ship the Zanzibar, and we finally find out who Zanzibar is. The question of whether the good fortune of the shipwreck for the islanders came about from Laura's kindness to the turtle remains. I cam
e upon this book as my son is reading and working with the text for this school term. I can see why it has been picked for this as there are plenty of topics that can be followed up from it. Such as what island life was like in 1907, children of fourteen being and work and not at school, people relying on salvaging wrecks for a living etc.. Michael Morpugo has written many books, some have been shortlisted for the Smarties Prize, and' Why the Whales Came' has been made into a film. Would I recommend this book, well yes it's well written if not a must read classic. Would Matthew recommend it. NO. He say's he hates it because it's about a girl. Thats a nine year old boy for you, and also being told by his teacher that he has to read it may have a lot to do with his dislike for it. Published by Mammoth. Price £4.50.
Winner of the Whitbread Children's Novel Award 1995 / Michael travels to Scilly for his Great Aunt Laura's funeral and inherits her diary, which reveals the moving story of her childhood, the great storms and the discovery of Zanzibar.