Review Blog

Jun 02 2009

Krakatoa Lighthouse by Allan Baillie

cover image

Puffin Books, 2009. ISBN 9780143303596
(Ages 10+) The son of the lighthouse keeper, Kerta is aware as is all the village of the islands nearby where the volcano, Krakatoa, looms over the landscape. Kerta is friendly with everyone and when the telegraph master offers him the job of taking the telegrams to the people living in the town of Anjer, he readily accepts. He sees Hassan steal the gunpowder, and sees Hassan's father chained up by the Dutch. He sees the ships in the bay, particularly the Dutch vessels with a load of tourists going to climb the mountain. And he is immensely proud of his father's work keeping the lighthouse operating.
Asked to join one of the ships, he accepts reluctantly, because he is aware that the dark spirit, Orang Aljeh is waiting. His climb up the side of Krakatoa is fraught with danger as the mountain rumbles, blowing pumice and ash over all the tourists and his party must run for their lives back to their ship. The year is 1883, and Kerta and his family live within the sights and sound of the mountain that spectacularly exploded, leaving ash in sunsets around the world for years after.
Baillie thrillingly tells the story of the Krakatoa eruption through the eyes of this young Indonesian boy. Through him we see the fear begin to spread as the ash and clouds of steam and pumice become bigger through the month of August. When the massive explosion occurs, we are with him clinging to life in a palm tree, as the three tsunamis roll across his village, taking all with them. Baillie invites the reader to feel the dread of this most famous of volcanic eruptions, as Kerta survives the blast. Baillie is able to put his readers in the mind of his characters enabling them to empathise with events far away in both time and place. And along the way we have hints of colonial rule, suggestions of the development of opposition to colonial rule, village life, the working of steam boats in the Indonesian waters, and an amazing array of detail about Krakotoa itself. A wonderful story for upper primary people.
Fran Knight

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