By Author / Illustrator

Nicola Skinner


Friends and family

Age range(s)



HarperCollins Publishers








The extraordinarily inventive and inspiring new middle grade novel from the rapturously acclaimed author of BLOOM.

This is the story of Kirsten, an apparently happy and successful 11-year-old YouTube star who meets a ship that comes alive... and is claimed by it as its new captain as it breaks free from its dry dock.

Inspired by the true history of the SS Great Britain, Starboard is about the friendship, heroism and bravery that you can find in others, whether they're made of flesh or iron. It's about taking control of your own life and going on epic adventures. But most of all, it's about finding out who you really dare to be, when you're completely out of your depth...

Q&A & Video of author Nicola Skinner



Starboard tells the story of a young reality TV star, struggling with the fickle nature and pressures of fame, and of one of the most famous ships in British history, the SS Great Britain. Whilst on a school trip to the SS Great Britain, Kirsten feels a connection with the ship and so begins a journey that will require her to be brave, courageous and reassess what it is that is really important in her life!

This is a story that is told with great skill. It weaves the history of the SS Great Britain in with the life lessons needed to be faced by Kirsten, in order for her to find her way home and make everything alright. This was a wonderful journey and one that everybody should buy a ticket for!

400 pages / Reviewed by Andrew Mullen, teacher

Suggested Reading Age 9+


When seven-year-old Kirsten Bramble made a film to find her Dad a new girlfriend, it went viral and the Brambles are now reality TV stars. They live in a big house and have plenty of money. Starboard begins when Kirsten is 11 and her show is not doing so well; audience figures are dropping. Meanwhile, Kirsten has fallen out with her best friend, Olive, and with most of her classmates, because she is too boastful. She’s very lonely, but hides it and pretends she doesn’t care.

Kirsten’s life changes when she goes on a school trip to Bristol to visit the famous ship, the SS Great Britain. While being shown round, the children dress up in Victorian costume and when Kirsten puts on an old hat, she finds that she has somehow become Captain. Magically, the old ship breaks free from her dry dock and, with Kirsten and Olive on board, sets off on a fantastic mission. Kirsten is given a quest to follow, in which she learns what is important, both for the ship and for herself.

This is a lovely book, a fantastic blend of history, magic and adventure. The ship’s mannequins come to life and become Kirsten’s crew as they journey to New York, The Lost Sea, and the Falkland Islands. With Olive as her First Mate, the two girls, reluctantly at first, join forces to solve the puzzles and riddles set for them by the SS Great Britain.

Kirsten is a beautifully drawn character, feisty and strong; she is a little annoying at first, but comes into her own with every adventure. Olive is just fabulous, she stands by Kirsten even when she is not treating Olive well, and is not afraid to tell her ex-best friend exactly what she thinks of her. We learn why the two girls fell out in the first place and, as the story progresses, see them become close friends again.

The ship is a character in itself. The author has given the SS Great Britain a voice; it talks to Kirsten and helps to guide her on her way with the help of a magic map. The use of different typefaces throughout the book is a clever device, and the bold illustrations by Flavia Sorrentino really complement the story. I especially liked the use of white typeface on black pages which was used when Kirsten was diving in the Lost Sea. The conclusion of the book is very moving, both for the ship and for Kirsten who comes to realise that being famous is not as important as being happy and having good friends.

All in all, this is a very clever book, combining fact, fiction, and fantasy, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to readers aged 10 and over.

400 pages / Reviewed by Beverley Somerset, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 9+


Other titles