Our Australian Girl is a series I adore. A great deal of history can be gleaned from the contents of these books for readers of all ages. This compilation of four books in one is fantastic for there’s the continuity of one story after another. The pleasure is accentuated by Sofie Laguna’s magical way with words.
This is set in a historical era. The descriptions of poverty and brutality against and between children are at times disturbing. But industrialisation was underway, forcing the loss of jobs that caused many families to become destitute and desperate.
Eleven-year-old Grace’s life as a mudlark moves the reader deeply. It is similar to that of countless children scrounging around in the mud banks of London for anything to sell to survive. Hunger and abuse are their lot in life.
Grace loves horses and this brings conflict to her already troubled life when, filled with compassion, she steals apples to feed a scrawny horse and gets caught. Her punishment is penal servitude at Sydney Cove. Life shifts when she sets foot on the ship, for young Hannah and her mother Liza fill her empty life with love and warmth.
The open space and the sea are welcomed by Grace after the smog and filth of London. She realizes that the world is bigger than she could imagine and things may be better than what they were, for on arrival she is taken into servitude by Beth and Tom who are expecting their first child and who also own a horse.
The food and fresh air benefit Grace. She discovers she is far more capable than she knows as she goes through great changes, learns much from Beth and the Aboriginal woman Mungo, and discovers that life can be beautiful, even in difficult circumstances.
The stories contain a strong sense of place as we enter the wilderness, hear the bush animals scampering in the underground and smell the smoke from the campfires.
Title: The Grace Stories — 4 books in one (Our Australian Girl)
Author: Sofie Laguna
Illustrator: Lucia Masciullo
Publisher: Penguin, $24.95 RRP
Publication Date: October 2013
For ages: 10+
Type: Australian Historical Fiction