Author – Geraldine McCaughrean
Age – 13+
Quilliam (Quill) is kissed goodbye by his mum, never knowing he will never see her again. He and 8 other boys and 3 men from his village are about to travel by boat and be dropped off on a group of tiny islands which are nothing more than rocks jutting out of the treacherous ocean around them.
These rocks are sanctuaries for gannets, puffins, storm petrels, fulmar and guillemot – birds that provide feathers for bedding and clothing, oil for medicine and fires, and meat for the approaching harsh winters. The boys and men work hard, scaling the rocks, slippery with bird droppings and seawater that relentlessly thrashes against them.
When the boat doesn’t arrive to pick them up, they aren’t worried. They carry on with their work, believing it will be out soon and they might as well make the most of the ‘harvesting’ of birdlife. But when it hasn’t arrived a week, a month, several months later, they begin to despair for their lives. The bird carcasses that they’ve collected for their family’s winter are soon dwindling and conflicts between them building. Have they been forgotten?
This story is based on a true story set on a cluster of islands and sea stacs called St Kilda. A group of men and boys were left to kill as many birds as possible to pay rents to their landlord and supply food and supplies for the coming winter in 1727. They were left there for 9 months only to be finally picked up and taken home to their village where something even worse had befallen their families. Despite the harsh setting, the author’s use of language makes this story almost beautiful.
(Historical, Courage, Friendship, Growing up, Religion, Insanity, Island, Sea Stac)