“The Diary of Kitty Barnes”, by Vashti Farrer.

With the dearth of good Australian historical fiction for the middle years, it was with keen hope that I started upon this “My Australian Story” book, set in The Rocks, Sydney, in 1900.

The fictional Kitty keeps a diary for one year, chronicling events including the incidence of bubonic plague, the Boer war, federation and the search for a capital city, as well as aspects of everyday life.

While the book has some redeeming features, not the least of which is the ability to portray the times through the eyes of a 13 year old, and still include a lot of historical fact, without sounding like a lecture. (anyone read the scene in “The Silver Skates” where they skate for days, and spend all their conversation on the historic land marks? Yawn!)

Call me persnickety, but it was tough to get past the grammar. I was happy for my children to read “Bob, Son of Battle”, and hear ever after the phrases, “wee laddie, bonny lass, ” and so on. What I don’t think I could live with, is the use of these literary pearls;

turned the page real quick

ain’t got the money

live there no more

just cos they got horses

real dirty

said them things

it were beautiful

Grinding your teeth yet? Vernacular literature has it’s place, but as it is written in the first person, all 176 pages of it, I found it tough going.

Another point, which will bother only the most conservative of readers, is the incipient romance with the boy next door. It was hardly alarming, the most daring elements being a valentines card, some clandestine hand holding, and a stolen kiss on new year’s eve, but it is not a theme I look to encourage in that age group.

On a positive note, I was pleasantly surprised at the family attitude that was displayed in the main character, both in respect shown to parents, and more marvelously, in genuine kindness shown on all occasions to siblings. It also contained historical notes in the back of the book, which I consider valuable for young readers in discerning which parts of the book are fiction, and which are fact.

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