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WINNER 2015 ACT PUBLISHING AND WRITING AWARD FOR CHILDREN'S FICTION
Florence is confused. Her family says her older sister Lizzie died of fever and should be buried immediately. No doctor is called, no clergyman is present and no neighbours are asked to come. The burial happens at night. In 1860s Australia, on a remote sheep station, the staff do not ask questions.
Life has been good for young Florence. She has her pony and her birds, her older sisters spoil her and even her very strict father often gives way to her. But after Lizzie's burial, the atmosphere in her home changes. People are grieving, but there is much gossip. Family and staff members whisper in corners and no one will answer Florence's questions. No one visits Lizzie's grave. The arrival of her new governess, Susannah, a friend of Lizzie's, adds to the tension. Susannah does not believe that Lizzie died of fever. With Susannah, Florence sets out to discover the true story of what has happened to her sister.
Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves, is a most interesting short historical novel for readers aged eight to twelve.
It's a mystery story, set on a remote sheep station in the 19th century. It's cleverly crafted in the form of letters and diary entries from various protagonists in the novel, so that events are gradually revealed from multiple points of view.
The central character, the one that the kids will identify with, is Miss Florence Williamson, who, in 1868 is aged ten. She's a smart kid, rather rebellious, and very determined. The novel begins with her declaration that she will never write in her diary again because she doesn't ever want to remember this day, the day that her sister Lizzie, suddenly died. Her father is outside hastily burying the body - no doctor, no clergyman and no witnesses - and the rest of the family is in shock. Clearly there is something odd about this death, and Florence's curious questions at a dinner in town bring others to the same conclusion.
Deeves uses the historical period to explore gender issues and social conditions. Florence's father James is an irascible man, sacking servants at whim, and laying down the law about the role that women should play. He has strong objections to his neighbour's efforts to extend education to the labouring class; and he is horrified by his sister Hetty turning up in a riding habit. Nothing his family can say will reconcile him to Henry Parkes' plans to bring some of Florence Nightingale's nurses to the colony, and he is adamant that none of his daughters will be tainted by marrying a former convict.
Events conspire to make him reassess his ideas. The tension rises when James goes missing just as it's shearing time, and he has sacked his overseer so his ‘bossy' daughter Jane has to deal with recalcitrant shearers and a heavy workload.
The novel is only 72 pages long, supplemented by the author's ‘historical notes' at the back, so it's very suitable for reading aloud or reciprocal reading. Its structure lends itself to plotting the course of the story and of course predicting what might happen next, and perhaps writing alternative endings in the same diary/letters format.
Recommended, especially as a supplementary text for units of work on Australian settlement.
Pauline Deeves has built a wonderful story around the mysterious and sudden death of Lizzie, one of four daughters of a wealthy sheep farmer, in the Australia of 1868. Lizzie's death is the central stone around which all the rich history of that era is constructed. The narrative is comprised of diary entries and letters from and between the female characters presenting varying points of view. There are dramatic descriptions of life and living, employment, men's attitudes, and social norms. Beautiful scenes incorporating the natural surroundings add a newsreel effect to the prose.
Ten year old Florence and her sisters live subject to the harsh commands of their father. His authoritarian rule diminishes their dreams and silences any opinions they have. But the three older girls are strong-willed and strong-minded.
When Florence is told that Lizzie has died suddenly due to the fever, she refuses to believe her healthy sister could die so suddenly. The burial takes place late at night without a doctor or a minister attending. All her clothes are burnt, except her fur coat that is nowhere to be found. Jane the second eldest descends into silence.
Florence's schooling is taken up by Lizzie's best friend, Susannah, a liberal thinker who allows the child freedom to flourish.
Father is a keeper of secrets. When he is attacked by bushrangers and almost dies, he undergoes a complete change of character. Secrets are revealed. So is the truth about Lizzie's death. Jane is also transformed by her new found freedom, leadership qualities and her determination to prove herself.
The story accents the role of women in society and at home, and showcases strong, independent female characters whose courageous spirit and liberal ideas influenced the course of history. It further depicts the discrimination that convicts and their descendents experienced. This outstanding book was inspired by a true story discovered within the collection of the National Library of Australia.
Miss Florence Adelaide Williamson has had the most terrible day. Her big sister, Lizzie, has died of fever. It was so sudden, within hours, the household are in pure shock.
Papa and some men have buried her on the property. No time for a funeral. Her clothes are burned. The house plummets into mourning.
How could Lizzie have died so quickly? Lizzie's best friend Miss Susannah Jones is suspicious. Lizzie and her Papa had a huge row earlier that day. Lizzie told her everything, so Susannah just knew he would kill her. He said that he would.
When young Florence manages to oust her overbearing governess, Susannah joins the Williamson household as a temporary nanny for the young girl. Can Susannah discover what really happened to her friend?
Told in the form of diary entries and letters, this wonderful book had me captivated from start to (potentially gruesome) end. Florence is one of the most funny and plucky characters I've met in a long time--and her breathless antics, even while grieving for her sister, are glorious fun.
The Williamson family and the mystery that unfolds around them is evocative and rich with visual detail--we can see and feel the family's homestead, the shearing sheds, the fields, the town, the horses, even the swish of the women's skirts as they bustle by, desperate to both solve a terrible crime and solve a confounding mystery. Scenes quickly propel the reader back to Australia's colonial times of the mid to late 1800s.
Pauline Deeves writes with a beautiful flow and refinement. The language she uses to define each character is deftly chosen and elegantly-written, yet a hint of humour and rawness is equally evident.
A clever plotline and glorious twist will have kids (and adults!) talking about this book, and recommending it to others, as I have already done.
A work of fiction, the story was concocted after the author read Within Living Memory, a collection of stories which she found in the National Library archives. These stories were told by the people who lived at Lanyon, an old sheep station south of Canberra. When Pauline read of the quick, nighttime burial of a 20-year-old girl with typhoid, she was inspired to create the story of Lizzie and her family.
Historical notes on her fascinating historical finds are at the back of the book, and Pauline has even used old photographs of people from the NLA collection, to bring visual character to Florence, her family, and the fabulous cast of players.
Riding the wave of popular faction novels is mid-grade novel, Midnight Burial by Pauline Deeves. This fictional tale is based on a real life incident in 1910 sourced by the author from the National Library of Australia. It makes for fascinating reading, even more so because of the narrative style Deeves uses to relay the tale.
The epistolary story telling approach involving several distinct voices is not unusual in kids' writing. I have read ones using letters, emails, and even sms texts. However, in the 1860's, Florence, our 10 year-old protagonist does not have the luxury of text and so tells her story through diary entries. Her mother and governess supplement these with letters of their own. The resultant narrative is frank and simplistic, adeptly displaying the vivid, somewhat rebellious, and indignant personality of Florence.
Many of Florence's accounts are giggle worthy. Thankfully, her artless candour and naivety make up for occasional flat spots in the tale and will raise a smile or two for readers.
The mystery begins when Florence's sister, Lizzie, dies of fever one night and is buried immediately without ceremony or acknowledgement.
Her family live and work on a remote sheep station. Shearing season is imminent and father's word is always final, so no one dares questions the situation. Except of course, Florence whose refusal to believe what she overhears coupled with her determination to cure that awful childhood condition of ‘not being told anything' eventually converges with an unexpected reveal.
Midnight Burial provides youngsters aged 8 - 12 years with an exciting and upbeat historical glimpse of Australia's rural past. It's breezy to read, mysterious and questioning, and guaranteed to leave readers feeling less ‘abysmally ignorant' than poor old Florence.