Title: The Runaway Settlers
Author: Elsie Locke
Major Themes: 19th century, New Zealand, Historical Fiction, Frontier and Pioneer Life, Children’s Fiction
Synopsis: The Small family run from an abusive father, and try to create a new life for themselves in New Zealand—but will they ever be free from the fear of him finding them?
The Runaway Settlers is a book I’ll always treasure—because it first introduced me to the time when New Zealand was a fresh, new country, one that people were still learning to tame. I also love it because I’ve traveled over almost all the area this book talks about—and I can imagine it happening a lot easier that way. Besides being a story of settlers, however, it is also the true story of a family learning to make their own way in the world, and a fascinating adventure along the way.
The Small family has lived in the outback of Australia, surviving on what they could get out of their surroundings. Mr. Small, however, is a rough, unkind man—especially when he gets drunk. When he beats up two of his sons and his wife one day in a rage, the family decide to leave and make their own way in the world—leaving him and everything they own behind. It’s not easy—and although they’re glad to be away from their father, they all miss their home.
They reach Sydney safely—but will they be free from their father’s searching? They must change their names—and leave the country—quickly. But when no one is willing to take a family on board their ships, they wonder if they won’t be caught after all…and if they are, their lives will be even worse than before. Will they be safe? and if they are, will they be able to create a new home and life for themselves?
The Runaway Settlers is a wonderful way to study New Zealand history. It brings the mid-1800s to life, and covers many different places—from Christchurch to the West Coast and back. Elsie Locke does a wonderful job bringing that time period to life, and giving a real sense of how wild New Zealand was just over 150 years ago. It is also an amazing story of a family fighting to stay together against all odds, and creating a home for themselves in a place that seems inhospitable. I also love the fact that this is a true story, and the events that happened—while some may be fictitious—are all based on true happenings. This book makes a wonderful read-aloud as well as a reader, and children aged eleven and over will especially enjoy it.
WARNING: There is lying that happens throughout the book. Some people may object to the family running away from an abusive father.
Read Aloud—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 13, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15