Tuesday, February 1, 2011

YAL Blog - "Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor" by Paul Dowswell

Title: Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor   

Author: Paul Dowswell

ISBN: 1-58234-675-5

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children

Date of Publication: October 2005

Reading Level: Books in Print lists it at grades 4-7, but I would put it at grades 7 and up for more mature content

Genre: Historical Fiction

- Books in Print listed these:
   JUVENILE FICTION / Animals / Apes, Monkeys, etc.
- These are what I came up with:
   British Navy
   Naval Warfare
   Napoleonic Wars
   18th Century European History
   Maritime Battles
   Rankings in British Navy

Plot Summary: Sam Witchall is a 13-year-old boy who wishes to be a sailor.  He starts off on a British merchant ship, but is later pressed into the British Royal Navy as a "powder monkey" where his job is to load gunpowder into the cannons in the event of a battle.  The book tells his adventures on the frigate Miranda, detailing the every day life of a sailor as well as intense battles.

Comments: The bio on Dowswell says that this book is his first work of fiction, though he has written historical YA non-fiction before.  Dowswell's background in non-fiction is evident in this book, as much of it reads like a factual book on British Naval history.  As a narrator, Sam does not mince words when it comes to describing the cramped and often unsanitary conditions of his voyage on the Miranda.  The battle sequences are also very graphic and violent, which makes me question Books in Print listing it as suitable for grades 4-7 (or maybe I'm just being overly cautious).  The story gets more interesting later as aspects of the characters' lives outside of the Navy are explored (the family they left behind, reasons that they're in the Navy, etc.) and also during a very graphic and intense battle when many of Sam's friends are killed or captured by a Spanish fleet.

This book was recommended to me by one of my freshmen students who had actually done a PowerPoint project for his English class on the British Navy because he had read this book.  He also used the sources listed at the back of the book for his research project, so if someone has an interest in British Naval history, then this would be a good fiction book for them to read.

Next Up: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

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