The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott
by Sharon Gosling
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Pub Date 7 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 6 Jul 2022
Little Tiger Group, Stripes Publishing
So when news reaches London of a meteorite falling in the faraway land of Brazil and an expedition being put together to find it, Katy knows it’s her chance to follow her dreams and prove her father wrong. And winning a place on the trip is just the start of her extraordinary voyage on the trail of a fallen star…
A thrilling historical adventure from the author of THE HOUSE OF HIDDEN WONDERS, perfect for fans of Katherine Woodfine, Lucy Worsley, Jennifer Bell and Robin Stevens
Praise for THE GOLDEN BUTTERFLY:
“Touching on issues of class and gender, its main purpose is to bewitch and enthral.” – Financial Times
“A perfectly paced and wonderfully written tale of mystery and magic.” – Sinéad O'Hart, author of THE EYE OF THE NORTH and THE STAR-SPUN WEB
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
One girl fighting to break away from the normal, expected, mundane and perceived feeble-minded victorian woman's role.
Running away from home and travelling across to Brazil to follow her heart and find a meteorite seems drastic. But that is what it took to be noticed back then. Determination, bravery, and a sense of right are her tools. She makes mistakes and we see as she sees the consequences of her actions. But we see also the good that comes from doing the right thing. Good karma is one way of looking at it, the spirit of the jungle is another.
The strength of the villain and supporting characters, from Sir Thomas to the Alerte's captain to the natives in Salvador, is a delight. The tone and atmosphere infuse the pages with that special magic that means we get invested in the story and cry at the end.
The story has a solid ethical voice that is still as relevant to this day, probably more so. Through the eyes of Katy Willacott, we get to explore the gender roles and values and opportunities of the time. We see as she sees the result of greed, the rape of the land and appropriation of 'specimens' and plundering of resources by a colonial power irrespective of cost to the local peoples or environment.
This is such an empowering and entertaining story. A feast for the imagination in the same way as Emma Carroll's book: Escape to the River Sea, which we reviewed recently.
In fact, I would recommend them as worthy and happy bookshelf companions for the young reader with an eye on foreign travel and seeing women achieving in a time when women were expected not to.
As strong as the lessons in this fine book are, they do not overwhelm the story. It is 100% magic and is recommended for all.
This is an extraordinary book about a young girl doing extraordinary things.
Katy is a delightful, determined character who lives in Kew Gardens, where her mother works, in Victorian London. She knows what she wants to do and it isn’t spending her whole life in one place recording other people's discoveries so she sets off on an extraordinary adventure from London to the jungles of Brazil.
I became completely immersed in Katy's world and adored her. There are an array of interesting and strong characters throughout the story and a wonderful “cat” named Shadow who I became extremely invested in!
The story is amazingly well written with vivid descriptions of her voyage and Brazil as well as lots of adventure and excitement. The story also has a lot of ethical and environmental themes looking at events happening in Brazil such as deforestation, the destruction of habitat and the treatment of the indigenous people. This was all very well handled and will undoubtedly lead to interesting conversations amongst its younger readers!
I absolutely loved this book and want to thank Net Galley and Little Tiger Group for letting me go on this extraordinary adventure with Katy. I will also be posting my review on Goodreads, Twitter and Amazon when published.
A factastic middle grade read set in the Victorian Era and explores feminism through a female protagonist who is trying to fight the system that perpertually tries to keep her in her place, when akll she wants to do is go and have adventures.
I loved the writing style it was so engaging and I loved the characters. A great story.
I have always been a huge fan of Sharon Gosling's writing, from her Victoriana middle grade novels, The Golden Butterfly and The House of Hidden Wonders to her more recent adult romance, The House Beneath The Cliffs. So I was very excited to receive a copy of The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott, her newest middle grade novel. And I'm very pleased to report that it did not disappoint at all. It is an extraordinary book about extraordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Like Sharon's previous middle grades, this one is set in Victorian times and there's a feminist theme to it. Katy Willacott is a young girl with grand dreams, of going off on great expeditions, finding new marvels and making a name for herself. But, like Luciana in The Golden Butterfly, she faces one great obstacle: girls aren't allowed to do that kind of thing. This is all the more frustrating for Katy because she's been trained and brought up to do it and she's good at it. Her mum is a botanist at Kew Gardens, cataloguing and storing specimens of plants from all around the world and her father is an assistant archaeologist at the British Museum. Katy's brother gets to go off on an expedition with their father, and she decides to disguise herself as a boy and run off to Southampton to join an expedition to Brazil.
Katy is a wonderful character. She's strong, determined, capable and caring. I could really feel her frustrations and share her anger at the system that tried to keep her "in her place". I loved the growth in her character too, as she learned more about the impact early scientists and collectors could have on the world around her. I wanted her to do well, and cheered her successes and bemoaned her setbacks. And there are plenty of both, as the story goes through various twists and turns, never letting you know what to expect or able to feel comfortable for any of my favourite characters.
Katy isn't the only adventurous woman in the novel though, and Fran Brocklehurst deserves a special mention. She's a wonderful adventurous journalist, and a fitting inspiration for Katy. I loved every time she appeared in the story.
One character I found myself really loving was Mary Willacott, Katy's mother. She's a beautifully depicted, complex character. It feels like Katy looks at her at times as something of a failure, an example of what Katy really doesn't want to happen to her, seeing her trapped in a fairly mundane life, cataloguing plants that other explorers track down on their own expeditions, never travelling herself, with the traditional responsibilities and burdens of being a wife and mother. But there's so much more to her than that, and I love that the story highlights both the fact that Mary is happy with those responsibilities, with her family, but also that she is herself a highly accomplished scientist with her own career. It may not be what Katy would like to imagine for herself, but for the period it is impressive and significant.
There are a lot of other important issues covered in this book. Largely concerned with the scientific need to go to remote places and bring things back to sit in a museum, it deals with the cultural theft of art that is still a controversial subject for places like the British Museum particularly, and the hunting of animals both as trophies and specimens. It deals with deforestation of our rainforests, precious ecosystems destroyed in the name of commerce and "progress", and the impact of colonialism on the native people of the forests. The Victorian age is seen as an area where we made great progress in the sciences, and its great monuments, buildings like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum are still filled with its relics. The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott examines the cost of this.
It does it in an extraordinary way though. This is a book that is filled with adventures, fun and excitement. The heroes are brave and bold. The villains are really quite horrid. There are scares and failures and there are some unexpected friendships. It really is superb.
As a primary school teacher, I am very aware of the privileges my role gives me, one of which is the enormous power I have to influence the young people I teach. I try not to abuse this – I don’t discuss my political or religious beliefs with my classes, but I do try very hard to teach my charges those things not necessarily explicitly covered by the National Curriculum that I feel are important: kindness, tolerance and the importance of equality.
In an area which is almost exclusively white British, where many of the children are still brought up with traditional gender roles, it is sometimes hard to exert that influence to persuade those youngsters that girls now have the same opportunities open to them as boys and that those of different faiths or races can – and do – contribute enormously to our diverse society, but entertaining stories such as this go an awfully long way towards rectifying that. In this story, we find the bravest and boldest of young heroines, whose extraordinary voyage teaches her – and us – the importance of not assuming gender stereotypes and respecting our fellow humans and the natural world around us.
That heroine is – of course – Katy Willacott, who is being taught how to handle her grandfather’s model yacht in stormy conditions when we meet her – something made more difficult than it needs to be due to her not being allowed to wear trousers, which she finds ridiculous. Being raised by her botanist mother and archaeologist father at Kew Gardens has sparked a keen scientific curiosity in Katy and she is very excited when her mother tells her that journalist Fran Brocklehurst is to visit to talk to her about her work – something that Katy sees as an opportunity to question the writer about her many adventures to exotic places.
When Fran visits, Katy and her mother show her around the herbarium where Mrs Willacott carries out her work but their discussions are rudely interrupted by a visitor – the pompous Sir Thomas Derby, who strongly believes that the facility should only be staffed by men and is looking to move it to the Natural History Museum due to be opened soon. When Fran invites Katy to walk back with her to the railway station, Katy tells her about her desire to travel and to be an adventuring naturalist like Charles Darwin, studying all aspects of the natural world and is encouraged by Fran’s stories of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things.
Frustrated by her father’s refusal to take her with him on an archaeological dig in favour of her older brother, Katy resolves to prove her worth and after reading a newspaper article about meteorites falling on Brazil and a planned trip to recover them led by Sir Thomas decides to find herself a place on board his ship as a crew member to allow her to carry out her own investigations. Disguising herself as a cabin boy, Katy convinces the captain of the SS Alerte to employ her and soon joins his crew on their voyage to South America. But getting to Brazil is not as easy as she had hoped and when she finally arrives she still needs to use all of her skills and intelligence to enable her to explore the rainforest. Will Katy be able to fulfil her dream of being an adventuring naturalist? And can she do so without her true identity being discovered by Sir Thomas?
Having taken science A levels and then a science degree before working as a research scientist as a young adult, it saddens me greatly that girls still see physics and chemistry as boys’ subjects. Here, it is clear that at the time the story is set botany was seen as an acceptable pursuit for women but for Katy that is simply not enough. Curious about the world around her, she realises that she needs not only to be methodical in her research but to be better than the likes of her brother and Sir Thomas if she is to demonstrate her ability and intelligence to all around her. Meeting Fran, who she idolises, is the catalyst that she needs to push her into action and I hope that for many young readers Katy will similarly encourage them to follow their hearts and see that they too should not be limited by the expectations of those around them but with application might achieve whatever they aspire to.
As well as supplying us with a fabulously feminist protagonist, the book covers many issues which will already be familiar to readers but which bear further consideration. The abuse of the natural world – its environments and its inhabitants – is highlighted here and were this to be used as a class reader, some very powerful discussions could be prompted in class about deforestation, pollution and the treatment of indigenous peoples by explorers and industry.
Perfect for confident Year 4 readers upwards, this is a brilliant read – well-researched, thought-provoking and exciting in equal measure and I absolutely loved it. Publishing on July 7th, I am – as always – enormously grateful to publisher Little Tiger and to Net Galley for my virtual advance read.
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