Bixley, D. (2014). Monkey boy. Auckland, NZ: Scholastic. [Historical fiction]
I’ve said Monkey Boy is a historical novel, but in reality Donovan Bixley has created a genre-defying book. It’s part history, part war story, part ghost story, part coming of age story, part graphic novel and all action!
Jimmy Grimholt is the youngest and smallest sailor aboard the warship HMS Fury, as it heads out into the English Channel to fight off Napoleon Bonaparte and his army. Jimmy’s job is to be a powder monkey to the gun crew of Blasting Betty, a 32-pound cannon. The powder monkey’s main task is to run to the magazine store, the most dangerous place on the ship, and retrieve bags of gunpowder to enable his gun crew to charge their cannon. A dangerous enough task when walking, but a potentially deadly duty while running during the heat of battle and the ship is being peppered with enemy cannon shot.
The main action of the novel revolves around the warship’s wait for the inevitable battle with Napoleon. However, there is added action through the use of time slip, as we learn more about how Jimmy ended up in the Royal Navy at such a young age. There is also conflict with the other powder boys on board, his superior officers, and a ghost or three lurking on the ship.
This book should appeal to a wide range of kids, with its humour, historical fact, gross out moments, great cast of characters and Bixley’s perfect use of illustration – which add tension and detail to the story without a lot of extra text. Recommended for ages 10 and up.