This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney
Published by National Library of Australia
As someone who was hopeless at geography, and that same someone who cared even less for history at school, I really enjoyed this book - and learnt a great deal too!
As a writer of the ridiculous, I often struggle when it comes to reading educational fiction, however, by staging this tale against the backdrop of a school play, Tania McCartney and Christina Booth create a fresh take on the genre - one that cunningly won me over from the start.
'This is Captain Cook' tells the story of exactly that - Captain Cook. However it is the way in which it is told, that makes it truly great. As readers, we take a seat alongside the illustrated audience and watch 'Mrs. Batt's school play, in which school children creatively act out the story of Captain Cook.
The narrative mimics that of a school production. It carries the same tone and voice of an on-stage narrator, and in doing so, tells the story in a clear and simple manner that young readers can understand and follow.
From an illustrative perspective, limiting herself to a somewhat static backdrop could be deemed a bold move by Christina. But it is how she colours the backdrop that really pays off. Her clever use of props, and inclusion of the innocent on-stage blunders, creates the illusion that we too are watching a school play. We see the little kid saying 'hi dad', the teachers lurking in the wings and of course the rogue chicken - Captain Chook - who successfully interrupts every scene without being caught and thus becomes one of the story's main characters!
Christina's subtle use of colour really brings the story alive and plays to the two narratives - the adventures of Captain Cook unfolding on stage and that which is playing out in the audience. Young readers will be entertained by Captain Cook while parents will chuckle at the humourous reality communicated through the audience. It is these innocent realities that turn what could be a somewhat bland tale into a truly heart-warming performance, one that both children and their parents will enjoy.
I have never seen a children's story told this way and I love it! It gives new meaning to the phrase 'mixed medium' - I'm unsure whether I've read a story or taken part in a school play! Tania and Christina have taken a fun and light-hearted approach to a true story; one that will engage young readers aged 4 and upwards. So play your part and join Captain Cook and Mrs. Batt's class as they discover New Zealand, Australia and the chilly Antarctic.
CKT Book Reviewer
Author: Tania McCartney
Illustrator: Christina Booth
Title: This is Captain Cook
Publisher: National Library of Australia
Published: March 2015