SS Penguin SOS
In this historical fiction novel, Adrienne Frater tells the little-known story of a heroine. Adrienne is the great-niece of Ada Hannam, the only woman to survive the sinking of the SS Penguin on the Wellington coast in 1909.
This story is told through the eyes of Ada’s nephew, Jack, who is sent to board with his aunt and cousin Wally in Whanganui. When the teacher at his new school sets a task to research and write an essay about a real-life hero/heroine, and Jack discovers he’s living with one, he knows what he has to do. The trouble is, Aunt Ada has never told her painful story before and has internalised all her grief.
Jack shows great courage and sensitivity in gently coaxing the story out of his aunt. The story comes out in little pieces over a period of weeks and in between the story-telling evenings is the story of a broken family suffering the after-effects of WW1 and the pandemic.
This dual, alternating storyline makes for an enjoyable read. Jack’s story of a new life in Whanganui with chores to do, sneaky bike rides, and classroom dynamics makes for an interesting, but not so exciting read. The tension and drama comes through in Aunt Ada’s story of a reluctant heroine and the reader is keen to keep reading to find out how she survived when so many perished.
The book includes a few black and white photos taken of the tragedy at the time; a reminder that this actually happened on our shores.
Title: SS Penguin SOS
Publisher: One TreeHouse
Publication: August 2020
Advisory warnings: none
Would this book work as a read aloud?Yes
Is there a particular part of the country it’s set in? The characters live in Whanganui and the story is of a wreck in the Cook Strait.
Reviewer: Nova Gibson, Library Manager, Massey Primary School, Auckland
How are you recommending this book?Highly recommended
Opening Sentence: I haul the blankets over my head and jam my fingers in my ears.
You can buy this book here plus e-book versions are available and teacher notes are available here