The river charm by Belinda Murrell

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Random House Australia Children's, 2013. ISBN: 9781742757124. RRP $15.95. 320p
Highly recommended for readers 10-15 years particularly. Earlier books from Belinda Murrell, such as The locket of dreams and The ruby talisman, were hugely popular with the 10-13 year old girls in my school libraries. So popular in fact that I never seemed to get to read any of them. Her new novel, The river charm, is well titled as this reader found it indeed charming and engaging. As a lover of historical fiction and particularly Australian colonial history, this novel ticked all the right boxes.
Based on the family story of the author, who clearly demonstrates the inheritance of skilful writing and creativity, The river charm relates the story of the Atkinson family and their home Oldbury near Berrima, New South Wales. Charlotte Barton (Charlotte Waring Atkinson), the great-great-great-great grandmother of Belinda Murrell, was the celebrated writer of the first book for children published in Australia A mother's offering to her children: By a lady, long resident in New South Wales.
Through the fictionalised story of modern day Millie Mitchell, a descendant of the Atkinson family, the Atkinson family history is recounted by Aunt Jessamine, on a visit to the old home, Oldbury. Weaving fact with fiction, Murrell recreates the colonial atmosphere, attitudes and setting beautifully, not shying away from unpleasant aspects such as the lack of rights for women and Aboriginal people. The remarkable events which combined to best engender the triumph of Mrs Barton and her children against all odds have been painstakingly pieced together by a number of researchers and brought together by Murrell to provide the reader with a beautifully described story of courage and personal strength. The focus on strong female protagonists make this a natural choice to offer to young girls looking for inspirational characters.
Aside from the very clear appeal to readers of historical fiction, this is a novel which has much to offer as a support for Australian History curriculum topics as there is an abundance of accurate factual material contained in the story. This reader suggests this is a 'must have' title for any primary or lower secondary school library.
Sue Warren