The Lucky Shack
Working Title, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Having grown up in a harbour town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand, where the next stop is literally Antarctica, and my childhood days were bordered by either daylight fading or the tide turning, it is neither secret nor surprise that my favourite place to be is by the sea. Or that I escape there whenever I can, particularly to the more remote places. But remoteness is becoming a luxury as grand McMansions swallow all those little beach shacks that used to be the escape for city-dwellers, although every now and then you see one tucked in amongst its imposing neighbours. Yet even though the land value puts it out of reach of the bank balance of mere teachers and teacher librarians, nevertheless, we can dream and think about the stories it must have to tell as generations have passed through it, usually since the time at the end of World War II when many were constructed as safe havens for returning soldiers.
In this beautifully illustrated debut title for both author and illustrator, one little shack tells its story. Perched on the shore it watches the boats on the water and the colours of the landscape shine and blur throughout the days and seasons, lovingly cared for by the old fisherman. But dark, monochromatic times come as it slips into loneliness and abandonment as he no longer visits, until one day there is a new glimmer of hope…
As well as being a completely original concept, this a story of the timelessness of the sea and the seasons, of the cycle and circle of life and of enduring hope for a better future. Because even at its darkest moments, when it is starting to crumble and fall into the sea, the little shack believes that all is not lost and indeed, the ending shows that not only can it be restored but its future is assured. A bit like a person, really.
By telling the story from the perspective of the shack itself, rather than an observant narrator, the reader becomes invested in its tale, feeling its joy when the fisherman brings it to life with warm fires and music, its desolation as it is battered by the elements, its happiness when a new owner comes and then its delight when children come too. So even though, on the surface, this would seem like a story for young readers, older readers can explore the concepts of perspective and personification and the impact of those on both the writing and the reading experience. Teaching notes explore these concepts really well, and readers might even like to try their hand at telling their own story of a tree passing through the seasons from the tree’s perspective, with groups of four each taking a particular season. As this winter seems endless with its fog and frosts (at least here in the mountains) it is the new buds appearing that offer hope that the world will turn – but, then, is that the same in tropical regions? Perhaps there is the opportunity for a whole integrated STEM unit!