Monday, November 25, 2019

Child of St. Kilda

Child of St. Kilda by Beth Waters. Grades 2-5. Child's Play International, 2019. 64 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

I was going to include this book in my next picture book roundup, BUT I actually can't stop thinking about it and I decided I need to do a separate post about it just to make suuuuuure you don't miss it. November is a time of year that I always gravitate towards historical fiction and history and this book just hits that nostalgic historical spot that I crave this time of year. 

Norman John Gillies was one of the last children to live on St. Kilda. Born in 1925, Norman lived on the remote island of Hirta, part of the St. Kilda islands, about 100 miles off the coast of Scotland. His island home was so remote that animals had evolved that were different from any other animal in the world and sometimes there would be months without any contact from the outside world if the water was too rough for ships to pass and deliver mail. 

The people of St. Kilda had their community there and they lived peacefully. They didn't use money because they didn't need it - they operated on a trade basis and lived communally. You had to, in such a harsh and remote climate. But as time went on and technology and transportation improved, more and more people came to visit St. Kilda. Sometimes tourists brought disease with them - illnesses that the people of St. Kilda had no immunity to. And sometimes they brought word of an easier life on shore. As the people of St. Kilda succumbed to disease or younger people moved off the islands in search of an easier life, the population dwindled until it was finally so small that the community asked the British government to be relocated. 

I'm just fascinated by this tale of a people who are no longer really a people, a community that no longer exists, at least not in the way that it once did. Not to mention the unique animals found in St. Kilda - wrens and rodents that grow to enormous sizes due to their lack of predators, seabirds that aren't found anywhere else. The illustrations have a nostalgic air with their limited color palette, reminiscent of the picture books of the 1920s and 1930s when color was so expensive to print. It fits perfectly with the story. The sketchlike quality of the illustrations evokes the harsh landscape and brings to mind naturalists' sketchbooks. 

This is a true story and it's one that will fascinate a certain type of reader, those who are eager for a glimpse into the past and to learn about a people who no longer exist.