Review Blog

Apr 04 2012

Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews

cover image

Our Australian Girl (series). Penguin, 2012. ISBN 978 0 14 330623 8.
(Ages: 9+). Historical. Nellie has lived in the workhouse in Ireland, since the deaths of most of her family during the Great Hunger which struck Ireland in the middle of the nineteenth century when the potato crop failed. Unable to feed himself, let alone his daughter, her father placed her there, knowing she would have food and shelter. From there she was put aboard a ship bound for South Australia to work in the new colony.
So begins the story of Nellie, the fifth in the series of stories about girls throughout Australia's history, adding another 4 books to the 16 already published. She remains at the Depot where she is taken by a woman to be a helper in the kitchen at her boarding house. From Nellie's vantage point we see the colony and the new migrants who have come out to make a new life for themselves. Mrs Thompson who runs the boarding house has a husband working in the mines at Burra, several of the young men boarding with her work in places in Rundle Street, the centre of commerce, and we hear of the Governor, and the Aboriginal people on the streets. When the boarding house is destroyed in a fire, Nellie must fend for herself, as the family moves to Burra, and there is no room for Nellie.
Girls reading of Nellie will read of the perilous journey to Australia and the lack of protection these young girls had coming to a new colony, alone and without a family to support them.
For the 600 Irish workhouse girls who came to Adelaide, their lives must have been grim and Matthews' book will encourage its readers to think about this.
This is the first in the series of four books about Nellie, the second, being Nellie and the secret letter. As with all the others in this series, there is information about Nellie's time, facts about the date in Australia's history, an introduction to the next book, and an outline of the others in the series. The cover shows bits which have a significance to the story inside, and the charm at the top of the cover shows the date in which this book is set.
The whole series brings history alive for middle primary readers, and the books are supported with an extensive website.
with teacher notes.
Fran Knight

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