By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
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...
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+
Starboard follows Kirsten Brambles, a child reality TV star who is apparently happy and successful with everything she could have dreamt for. Except that everything is pretty much a façade and a concoction by the TV company.
On a school trip to the SS Great Britain in Bristol, something very odd indeed occurs. The ship talks to Kirsten and calls her captain. Then, without warning, it breaks free from its moorings and takes Kirsten and her once best friend Olive on a journey to find what is lost.
The SS Great Britain is a real ship, and the history in this story is also real. That is probably why this book is so clever at enabling the reader to entirely suspend disbelief at the ship operating of its own accord and taking on personality by the bucketload. Nicola Skinner has clearly done a great deal of research and woven it into the story so that this is not just Kirsten’s story but also SS Great Britain's. The book takes a historical journey but also a personal one.
The story is also not-so-gently poking fun at reality TV. The fall out for child stars is not something I've read about before in children's literature and this is definitely not a version of how wonderful life is on TV. In fact, it is abundantly clear how unhappy the TV programme is making Kristen and her father as well.
Flavia Sorrentino has illustrated this with wild line drawings and incorporated real photos in the illustrations. They fit perfectly and seem as if the sea is spilling out onto the page as you read.
The most obvious thing about this book is how it is written with love. Nicola Skinner has fallen for the SS Great Britain and that comes across on every page. She even confesses this at the very end of the book in the notes. I think this is why it is such an enjoyable read.
400 pages / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
If you like boats - you'll love this! If you like adventures - you'll love this! If you like a story about finding your true self - you'll love this!
Starboard is a story set around 11-year-old reality TV star, Kirsten. Her show is focused on finding a girlfriend for her dad (not that he's bothered that much - he just wants to please Kirsten). Her whole life is full of 'fake' people and settings and because of this, she struggles with 'real' friendships.
During a school trip to 'the once celebrated SS Great Britain, at one time the world's largest, most glamorous ocean liner', Kirsten is immediately drawn to the ship (and the ship to her!). As she stands alongside it, staring in awe at its immense size, she meets a smartly dressed man; eyebrows, sideburns and tall black hat seem so familiar that Kirsten feels that she has seen him somewhere before. His sudden disappearance leaves only the strong smell of cigars.
As the adventure develops, many quirky characters come alive! Mannequins - such as Mark - and a few past guests and a captain, along with my favourite, Flatty! He is quite grumpy, but very knowledgeable. In what way? You will see as you read more of the book. Not to mention the ship herself!!!!
The story is one of not only adventure but of finding yourself and putting right past wrongs. Perfect for anyone who also likes a little bit of history thrown in!
400 pages / Reviewed by Donna Ritchie, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+