New Zealand publishing house Gecko Press doesn’t publish all that many novels so it makes sense to pay attention when it does.  Just out is The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter and I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy.

The Santander family is in dire straits when they decide to enter the Great Mapmakers’ Race to find a way through some uncharted country.  With their explorer and route-finder father missing on his latest expedition that task falls to Ma, mapmaker extraordinaire, and the children: Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey.  When Ma is stranded en route to the start line all seems lost.

Lack of money and lack of confidence vie with each other but finally the children decide to enter the race alone. A lucky meeting with a young local adds practical skills to their more creative ones and they set off optimistically enough.  The task is twofold: to win the race and to produce the best map of the best route for road and rail.  Naturally all does not go smoothly as the inexperienced team attempts to cope with the terrain, the bad behaviour of some of the other teams and the responsibility that has been thrust onto their untried shoulders.

Eirlys Hunter has created well-rounded characters who snap and snarl at each other one minute while encouraging and supporting the next.  All have flaws as well as virtues that make them come alive convincingly.  Interestingly there is no setting in either time or place explicitly given, something that would usually bother me.  However, the author paints wonderful word pictures of the countryside being mapped.

And she is aided in this by the wonderful maps and illustrations of Kirsten Slade.  I love a map beyond most things and I think I would buy this book purely for its cartography!  I  was audibly excited when I realised that the whole route was being mapped out before my eyes.  Not only that but Kirsten Slade beautifully captures moments of exhilaration, the quirks of some of the teams and the togetherness of Beckett and the Santanders.

I galloped through this book, finding it difficult to leave and I am hopeful of a sequel.  There is, it seems to me, unfinished business.  I’d whole-heartedly recommend this book to children who like a good adventure and compelling storytelling.

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