Reuben Radcliffe's father owns the store in the small township of Waipapa. When the bank forecloses on a loan, Reuben and his family are forced to leave their home and move into a tent. With no money and little food, Reuben has to leave school and find work.
Heading north with his father, Reuben joins a gang of Dalmatian gumdiggers. He soon learns how to dig the ancient kauri gum that lies preserved in the Northland swamps.
But tragedy lurks just around the corner - with the drowning of his mentally disabled brother, who has come to spend some time at the camp with Reuben.
I was really looking forward to reading this book with my boys (aged 9 and 10). Stories portrayed both in books and movies about young children having to find ways to help support their families or themselves have been told umpteen times before. But "Gumdigger" is unique. It is told as a diary, and as it is also a Kiwi book it is close to home for us and makes it that little bit more interesting.
And so I started reading Gumdigger to my boys, I read a few pages with them and then off to bed they went at 9pm. 11pm and I thought I would read ahead a few sneaky pages... and at half two in the morning I finally finished the book! Lol it's an amazing story... and yep certainly makes one appreciate what they have now, that's for sure.
Reading about life at the turn of the nineteenth century in New Zealand was really captivating, and something my boys found really interesting. Hearing the trials that Reuban had to go through at such a young age, really put some things in perspective for them. The sad part of the story, when Reuban's little brother passed on really shocked them, they did not see it coming and I don't think they expected something like that to happen and as they are friends with a little boy who has epilepsy, it did make them think how lucky we are these days. The story also covers things such as racism, injustice and so much more.
This is a truly beautiful and inspiring story. And a wonderful read for anyone, young and old and I really am glad I got to read it to my boys. Oh the only error I found with the book was the dates at one point got muddled up... not sure if that was intentional or a printing error
I wasn't too sure what I was getting myself into with this book. The story of a young man (only thirteen) who comes across difficult times, and must enter the workforce to help support his family, is one that has been told many times, but I was immediately captivated by the uniqueness of Reuben's voice. Although he was barely into his teens, he had a maturity about him that, at times, surpassed his father.
This insight into New Zealand life at the turn of the nineteenth century was fascinating, well researched and truly engaging. I appreciated that Reuben never complained, always doing his best and noticing the lighter side of life. Full marks to Beattie for writing a young man who was fun to read and sounded totally believable.
Gumdiggers provides a great way for children to learn about this side of the history of New Zealand. It is part of a series of books called 'My Story' put out by Scholastic which I think should be used in school as a prelude to NZ-related history lessons as they bring difficult concepts down to a personal level and allow children to 'experience' what it was really like back then. Definitely a good one to have on the shelf.
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