Books for teaching history – Scatterheart

Scatterheart By Lili Wilkinson

sits itself between the First Fleet and the Gold Rushes, but it’s delightful fictional story encompasses the themes of fear and hope in the journey to an unknown land that are common to both periods of history.  Lili Wilkinson tells the story of Hannah Cheshire, a well-born London girl who we meet in the midst of her confusion and despair over her sudden change in circumstances.  It interweaves her present predicament with reflections of her life past.

Scatterheart is not a gentle book, it doesn’t side-step unpleasantness.  It shows the harsh truths of a convict transportation experience, including confronting realities such as female factories, severe corporal punishment and violent self-defence.  But the issues are faced in context with honesty and tact.  The colourful language is true to the severity of the challenges and depth of the emotions often felt by people in these experiences.

Following Hannah’s experience leads the reader to a greater appreciation of the full journey of a convict; from prison in the UK, the long and hard journey by boat and life on arrival.  It also effectively illustrates the social conventions of the time, especially the distinction of classes and the importance placed on maintaining one’s station in life.  Or as Hannah puts it: being a lady of Quality.

We would recommend Scatterheart as a great read for students who are at a maturity to deal with the issues and language it conveys.  It provides a good introduction to convict immigration and may help students make an emotional connection to the people who experienced it.  It is a good place to start unpacking the complex conditions in the new colony.

This post was written as part of our celebrations for the National Year of Reading.


2 responses to “Books for teaching history – Scatterheart

  1. “Scatterheart” is a wonderful story. It has been very popular in our school library, especially with students in Year 9 who have loved the mix of history, adventure and romance. The sections about Hannah’s trip to Australia on board the convict ship have been especially exciting according to our readers.

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