Review of ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’
Written by Pamela Rushby
Age Range: Upper Primary – Lower Secondary
Themes: history, Australia, plague, occupations, role of women, family, community.
There are many things to like about ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’: it brings Australian history to life for a younger audience; there is a strong and confident young woman as the central character; the writing is a seamless weaving of fiction and fact and last but not least, it has a great cover. At least in the first instance, we absolutely do judge books by their covers so I’m always impressed by well-designed ones. ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’ has a beautiful cover; a young woman stands in front of a row of houses with an expression of both contentment and strength. You note that the book is set in 1900 and yet she is not dressed in clothes which would be typical of that era for a woman and wonder why that might be. Then there is the rat scurrying across the right hand side – so small you barely notice it but there nonetheless! Who would have thought that a book about the plague and rats being thrown into walls and killed by snappy, hyperactive rat-killing terriers could be so beautiful and so completely engaging?
It’s 1900. Thirteen-year-old Issy McKelvie leaves school and starts her first job – very reluctantly – as a maid in an undertaking establishment. She thinks this is about as low as you can go. But there’s worse to come. Issy becomes an unwilling rat-catcher when the plague – the Black Death – arrives in Australia. Issy loathes both rats and her father’s four yappy rat-killing terriers. But when her father becomes ill it’s up to Issy to join the battle to rid the city of the plague-carrying rats.
As with so many of Pamela Rushby’s other historical fiction titles, ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’ ties in beautifully with the Australian Curriculum: History and is destined to be studied in classrooms across the country.
You can read more about Pamela and her writing here.