It was a big decision: four whole months at sea. It would be dangerous and wet. It would be cold and windy. And maybe she would fall overboard and drown. But it would, without a doubt, be an adventure, and she had always wanted to go on one of those.
(The Girl, The Cat And The Navigator by Matilda Woods. P72.)
Oona Britt dreams of a life at sea. She has always wanted to join a ship’s crew and go in search of a mysterious and mythical creature called the Nardoo. Only one thing stops Oona from joining her father’s ship.
Girls don’t go to sea.
It was a major disappointment that Oona was a girl – her father had hoped for a strong and adventurous boy. Oona is desperate to prove herself to her father. She stows away on a ship and sets sail for an adventure, where she proves time and again that she can handle anything the world throws at her.
Meet Oona – she’s bright, she’s bold and she can do anything she sets her mind to. Oona’s whole future is altered in one instant, the moment when she is born and turns out to be a girl. Her father ends the celebrations and mourns for the child who would have sailed beside him.
This may be a fairytale world of Nardoos and cats with nine lives, but it tells a story which is very real. Studies have shown that even those of us who think we are liberal differentiate by gender. We speak to babies in different tones, offer them different toys and talk about different subjects with them. By the time they are old enough to think for themselves, their idea of gender-roles is entrenched.
Yet girls can have adventures too.
I loved the tone of the story – it reads like a fairytale or a bedtime story, yet the adventure is solid and it leads to a satisfying conclusion. The prose is so beautiful it demands to be read out loud and the world is so magical and so unique that it is conjured in our minds. Welcome to a place where wrecked ships are turned into buildings and sea-shells are used to tell fortunes. Where mythical sea-creatures have been known to fly. Where cats hold memories of the ships they sailed in their previous nine lives.
Oona is a brilliant heroine who sees through the nonsense she is told. She’s a great role model and will hopefully give readers the courage to question the messages they receive – conscious and subconscious messages.
The adventure already feels like an old-favourite. There is something timeless about the story, except it says something which relates to the present and the future. Set sail and see how wide the world can be.