I love a book that helps us better understand a specific place and time in history and The Child of St Kilda highlights the tiniest of islands with the biggest of story’s to tell.
Imagine living on a remote island, cut off from the rest of the world for months at a time and where a journey to the mainland could take days. A place with no cars, no shops, no electricity and where the small number of people lived on the one and only street. Welcome to St Kilda, a group of islands to the far west of Scotland and known as the ‘islands on the edge of the world’.
Norman John Gillies, was one of the last children to be born on the island of Hirta - the largest island of St Kilda - in 1925. For five years he lived on the island, raised by his parents and becoming part of an incredibly close-knit community of people who only knew one way of life, the St Kilda way…
Through beautiful artwork and informative text, Beth Waters reveals the incredible true story of the island of St Kilda and its inhabitants. The biography of the island uses Norman John as its focal point as it explores the island through his childhood from his birth to the tragic death of his mother in 1930 that was the precursor to the evacuation of the residents to the mainland - the island has remained uninhabited ever since.
Told in themed short sections and over evocative double page spreads, Waters gives readers a real insight into island life and showcases the island in all its rugged, wild beauty, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of such a unique way of life. The island was at the mercy of the elements and in order for the small community - it numbered just thirty-six in 1930 - to survive, each and every person had to play their part. Adults would dig peat out of the ground to burn to warm the houses and men would risk their lives on the steep cliffs collecting birds and eggs that would be used for food and fuel. Cows and sheep would provide milk, sheep’s wool was turned into clothes, and potatoes and barley were farmed for food. Whilst the adults were out doing the hard labour the children attended the single-roomed school. It is easy to imagine the wonderful sense of community and dependence on each other as the St Kildans had to fend for themselves and often battled against the odds.
I really appreciated the extras at the back that include some of Waters’ sketchbook work that was completed during a four-day trip to the island in 2017, further information on Norman John Gillies and a delightful sketched map.
Child of St Kilda is an incredibly interesting read that sheds light on a unique community and a lost way of life. Beth Waters has created a wonderful tribute to the islands and the people that used to call it home.
Recommended for 7+.