The ship of cloud and stars by Amy Raphael

cover image

Nico Cloud’s life in London in 1832 is not easy. As the girl in the family, she must only consider ‘female tasks’ like embroidery and must not explore education, science and complex ideas, like her aunt had pursued before her. Nico’s parents make her life so difficult and restricted that she decides to escape briefly and meet up with her aunt aboard her research sailing ship. Unwittingly she becomes a stowaway and when she is discovered she finds that not only is she sailing with her aunt, but she must keep her aunt’s identity hidden – a female scientist should never exist!  An aunt, she aren’t! Scientific research into Paleobiology can only continue if her aunt works as a man. Nico’s passion for seeds and science becomes woven into her aunt’s research, but first they must escape pirates and work out how the myths shared by the crew impact them and connect the past and the future.

This is an interesting tale highlighting the plight of intelligent girls, women and scientists from the patriarchal world of the 19th century, but it is also an adventure on board a sailing ship, a friendship tale and a slightly fantastic meshing of myth and science, with a few fossils thrown in for good measure. Young readers can cope with the excursions into myth, especially as history almost seems like fantasy to them. The historical context of life for women in the 19th century may also be surprising for them. Mostly this book is about a feisty girl from another era who is passionate about science and learning new things. The scattered illustrations in the book sometimes contain small details that do not match the text but they are child-friendly and do not distract from the story. Science-loving readers aged 9-11 will be happily engaged by this different adventure.

Themes: Paleobiology, Female scientists, Adventure, 19th Century, Mythology.

Carolyn Hull