Review Blog

Jun 01 2018

Never lose hope by Mark Wilson

cover image

Lothian, 2018. ISBN 9780734416797
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: Convicts, Sydney Cove, Education, Australian history. Subtitled, The story of Australia's first school, this evocatively illustrated picture book about the early years of convict settlement in New South Wales, shows younger readers the efforts of one woman, Isabella Rosson, bringing the most basic of education to the children in the colony at Sydney Cove.
Using the colonial paintings of John Glover and Thomas Watling as a guide, Wilson presents a view of early life in Sydney Cove that will be easily recognised by younger readers. In each of the paintings life in this isolated place can be seen: men fishing with nets in the stream, bark huts - their roofs held down by lengths of timber, Rosson's horn book - a treasured possession, the soldiers, tents and chains. Each detail brings the lives of these early settlers closer to the audience, as they read of John Hudson, a young convict sent to New South Wales for stealing a shirt, and now on the run again after stealing bread in this starving colony. Isabella finds him and takes him into her hut to feed him and give him a place to rest. He sees her book, and gently turns the pages, returning to watch other children come for their lessons, leaving flowers for her, until one day he comes inside to be part of the class, until the soldiers finally find him and he is caught.
Isabella tries to find the lad and help him, enlisting the help of the Johnson family, Richard Johnson being the chaplain in the colony, but they can do little except report that John has been sent to Norfolk Island.
Wilson likes to imagine that the lad uses his newly found skills to do well and survive in this new colony, setting up the farm that he told Isabella about, using the phrase, "Never lose hope", as his guide.
Within the illustrations Wilson includes pages from a diary showing some more of the colony and how it works. Through the eyes of the two convicts, Isabella and John readers will be able to extract some feeling for people sent to this place of exile and how some people made the best they could of being here.
The theme of hope is ever present in Wilson's latest tilt at offering Australian history for younger readers and will be an asset in a classroom, either as a teaching tool or read aloud, encouraging readers to think about their experiences compared with John's and how they may have coped in the early years of European settlement.
Fran Knight

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