Author(s): Eirlys Hunter
Four children temporarily lose their parents just as they are about to begin the race that offers their last chance of escaping poverty. Their task is to map a rail route through an uncharted wilderness. They overcome the many obstacles posed by nature, bears, bees, bats, river crossings, cliff falls, impossible weather, but can they survive the treachery of their competitors?
This is a fast-paced and charming novel. Its children are brave and competent but not always right. Its world is magical enough to be intriguing but close enough to our own to keep the reader on firm ground.
Meet the Santander family - explorers and mapmakers. When Ma misses the train, Sal, the twins Joe and Francie, along with young Humphrey, are on their own, making their way to Grand Prospect as entrants in the Great Mapmakers' Race, a competition to map a railway route through the uncharted wilderness from Grand Prospect to the port at New Coalhaven. The fastest team wins the prize, and the best map, the grand prize, will become the new railway. And all this needs to be done in 28 days! Arriving in Grand Prospect, the children are scoffed at and almost not allowed to race. No one has much faith in them, despite their parents’ reputation as fine explorers and excellent mapmakers. The children have to go on - it’s their only hope of raising the funds to track down their father, who has been missing for months on an expedition. Surely Ma will find a horse, get another train, catch up with them somewhere. Four children stranded in Grand Prospect with no money, a minimum of supplies, a four-year-old in tow, no horses to carry their load of supplies, and competing with several adult teams who have brawn, wonders or money at their fingertips: teams like Cody Cole and his Cowboys - tough men with fine horses - their symbol a rifle and a telescope crossed over a map; the Solemn Team - scientific and logical; and Sir Montague Basingstoke-Black and his mountaineers - pipes firmly tucked in mouths, astride their mechanical horses that will never tire. But the real stars of this book are the inventive and brilliant Santander children. Setting out on the road, they meet Beckett - a local lad - who gives them a helping hand. Resourceful and savvy, Beckett procures donkeys and food and has a few tricks up his sleeve. Enticed by the idea of the railway, he joins the Santanders - luckily for them, as neither cooking nor rationing the food supplies are part of the children's skill set. Amazing talents they do have, though: Joe is the surveyor, cutting ahead, often through prickly thorns and thick undergrowth, to find and make the best path; Sal is the mathematician, working the altimeter, calculating the inclines and declines and solving the technical problems; Francie is the map-maker - a brilliant artist - who can fly, take herself above the landscape and see it from a bird’s eye view; and Humphrey notices - the keen observer - things that the others miss. The Mapmakers' Race is an exciting, well-paced adventure from New Zealand author Eirlys Hunter. There are illustrations by Kirsten Slade throughout, and each chapter starts with a map marking out the journey and giving the reader teasers as to what might happen in the next few pages. Chapter eleven’s drawing includes the Impenetrable Cliffs of Doom, Camp Comeuppance and Camp Exhaustion. There will be bears, bats, tricks and treats, wild rivers, endless climbs, snow and storms. There are scary stories, magical tales and funny episodes around the campfire to cheer the spirits and keep the children travelling onward. This is an enjoyable read-aloud or keep-to-yourself and will have some children reaching for ink and paper to become wondrous mapmakers, and others out in the wilderness, exploring and making tracks. Charming, exciting and just a little dangerous.
Eirlys Hunter is a London-born fiction writer who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has published seven books for children as well as a novel and short stories for adults. Hunter teaches writing for children at the IIML at Victoria University.Eirlys Hunter has lived in Manila, Singapore and the Middle East. She has worked behind a bar, primary school teaching, cleaning a cliff-top fort, sorting mail and sending sand to Saudi Arabia. Hunter has always loved maps—imagining the landscape they’re showing and what might happen there, as well as how to get from one place to another. Her obsession with maps sent her to Cambridge University to study geography. When it turned out that maps didn’t come into the course, she spent her time acting in plays instead.