Book Review: Boats: Fast and Slow, by Iris Volant

This picture book for ages 4 or 5 upwards, explores the many kinds of boats created from the very earliest days of human existence.

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This picture book explores the many kinds of boats created from the very earliest days of human existence. These early boats were more like rafts than what we would now call a boat but they served the needs of people living by rivers, lakes and oceans. Boats were most likely a way to get food – perhaps by fishing or travelling to find animals to hunt – and new techniques such as hollowing out trees to make canoes and animal hide boats were soon developed.

The flyleaf tells readers that author Iris Volant is a pen name for Flying Eye Books’ in house writers; nonetheless they have done a good job. The urge to travel may initially have been driven by the need for food but it’s clear in the stories we find here that the urge to explore and find out what was around the bend or beyond the horizon was also important. The ingenuity of humans is clearly seen in the uses and development of boats for many tasks including trading, warfare, sport and pleasure.

The brightly coloured, almost cartoon-like illustrations by Jarom Vogel are a delight in themselves and also serve to provide more detail to the storylines of the text. I especially like the double page on Ra’s barge, complete with hieroglyphs and a terrible snake! Ra was worshipped as the sun god by ancient Egyptians and it was his barge, Atet, which carried the sun across the sky each day. Each evening the barge took Ra into the underworld, hence the darkness of the night, to battle with the evil serpent, Apep, and each morning Ra would triumphantly return with the sun.

I was pleased to see the section on pirates took note that the most successful pirate in history was not Captain Kidd or Blackbeard, but a Chinese woman named Ching Shih. She built her late husband’s small operation into a great fleet, known as the Red Flag Fleet, of three hundred traditional Chinese junks. The author suggests part of her success may have been due to the unique design of the sails, with their horizontal bamboo ribs which made them more flexible in strong winds.

The book also speaks of the Viking longships which terrified the coastal populations of northern Europe in the Middle Ages; of Jules Verne’s Nautilus, a prescient fictional submarine; and the incredible scientific voyage of HMS Beagle, which took the naturalist Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands where he developed his theory of evolution by natural selection.

This book will be enjoyed by youngsters from 4 or 5 upwards, reading with an adult to explain some of the technical terms. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  8

Distributed by: Walker Books Australia
Released: September 2018
RRP: $27.99

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