""The Skipper's Child" is a very entertaining and well-written adventure yarn for all ages. Having spent my teenage years in the 1960's, and being a Dutch barge fanatic to boot, the book was a wonderful way for me to experience what life might have been like if I'd grown up on a Dutch barge in the Netherlands rather than the US Midwest. Valerie Poore's story telling skills are superb. The rich characterizations and enticing, fast paced plot-line pulled me into the story from the start, and though decades older than Arie, the main viewpoint character, I immediately identified with him and had no trouble seeing the world through his eyes. The book is a delightful treasure to have stumbled on, and I too hope that Valerie writes a sequel."
"This book is a delight. Valerie Poore has the rare gift of being both able to tell an absorbing story and the capability of telling it well. She knows how to write as well as entertain. In a world where even children's literature can have very negative influence this stands out. I read it to my grandchildren and I enjoyed it as much as they did. It is fun, has tension, stimulates imagination, inspires interest in reading. It takes me back to the children's books of my childhood, even though it is set in modern times. It also shows a different lifestyle, that of a life on the water - something that intensely interested my grand-kids. It is one of the very few modern children's books that I can enthusiastically recommend. I hope that Ms Poore continues to produce books of a similar style and quality."
"Although this is ostensibly a book for older children, it is a gripping read, containing all the classic ingredients of a thriller - and at the same time gives a vivid picture of life on a dutch canal and the rather insular world of the bargee families which seems to contain a kind of claustrophobic freedom.The characterization is skilful and the plot gallops , or should that be skippers, along. [It] Contains enough geography, history, politics and psychology to be educational in a most discreet way -and, set in the early '60,s an innocence which is increasingly hard to find in contemporary novels aimed at young people."
And here is an extract from Chapter 2:
The quay gleamed darkly as Arie stepped carefully off the side of the barge. The cold wrapped itself round him like a blanket, numbing his cheeks with the intensity of the chill. It seemed worse at the back of his neck, though, so he pulled the hood of his duffle coat over his head and buttoned the flap across under his chin. Treading his way carefully along the narrow path, he found an opening with a few steps that took him up onto the main road leading towards the city centre.
The streetlights splashed soft yellow pools of brightness on the slippery surface of the paving stones, but beyond them, all was dark. Arie shivered as he walked. There was an undercurrent of menace creeping out of the shadows around him. Cars passed occasionally, cutting the silence with the sound of their wheels crackling through the icy puddles on the road. In the air there was a heavy smell of something rotten. Arie squeezed his nostrils together to block it out. He knew that this was the stench from the flax mills that discharged their waste into the canals, and poor Ghent was famous for it. He was glad it wasn’t summer when the heat would likely make the air unbearable. Crossing a bridge to the other side of the harbour, he headed into the city away from the water and the smell of festering decay.
At first, the street he walked along was lined with sad looking terraces, fronted by equally sad looking shops. In the reflection of the street lamps, he saw the dirty yellow bricks, and grubby net curtains of these dreary rows of houses. The atmosphere was so different from Dutch towns. Arie realised that his own country was a much more cheerful place to live in with its focus on warmth, cleanliness and cosiness. The outskirts of Belgian towns often seemed horribly depressing and he wondered how people could bear to live in such bleak and shabby surroundings. Things began to change, though, and as he trudged towards the city centre, the buildings seemed to grow in stature, and the facades became more elegant. Before he knew it, he had entered the old part of Ghent and was struck by its beauty. Crossing a bridge over the Leie river, which ran through and round the heart of the city, Arie gazed in fascination at the stateliness and charm before him.
Ancient houses seemed to stoop gently, leaning against each other for support and indulgently tolerating the water lapping round their footings. Bridges arched gracefully over the water and as well as the rows of barges, small pleasure-boats and punts were moored up to the sides for all the world like a Venice of the north. He was captivated. His parents had told him that he’d been born in Maastricht, which was apparently a very fine and historic place too, and they sometimes joked that his love of beautiful buildings was because he’d started life in such noble surroundings. Still, he’d not been there since, at least not since he’d been old enough to know where he was, but it was true that he was always aware of historic places and liked the old architecture much more than the new stuff that was being built now. Everything new was so bland, dull and square, and it seemed to Arie that no one wanted to make things look attractive any more.
As he meandered round the cobbled lanes lit softly by the tall streetlamps, he saw the ancient cathedral with its soaring tower, the proud Flemish town houses with their ornate frontages and the noble city hall. It was like finding treasure after the gruelling day they’d had, and Arie grinned, absurdly pleased to have seen all this beauty by himself. Being so cold, there weren’t many people about, but those he did see glanced at him curiously, and he realised he must look a little strange all alone with his ridiculous smile. He sighed with pleasure and his breath made small clouds before him, but he no longer noticed the falling temperatures.
Eventually satisfied with his visual feast, Arie set off back towards the harbour and quay where the Rival lay. He definitely felt ready for a good night’s sleep now. Whistling jauntily, he started on his way, but after a few minutes walk, he realised he had no idea how long he’d been out so he stopped under a street lamp to look at his watch. He still wasn’t really used to having one. He’d only got it for his birthday the previous June, and he wasn’t allowed to take it to school either, so it was still quite a novelty. Peering closely at its face, made yellow under the lamplight, Arie saw with shock he’d been gone for nearly two hours. It was only 8.30 but even so, his parents would be worried, he was sure. Breaking into a run, he sped his way back through the dim and freezing streets, gasping as the cold robbed him of breath.
Marijke glanced anxiously towards the clock on the dresser. Arie had been gone a long time. He often took himself off for walks when they moored up but he was usually back in an hour or so. It had been about 6.30 when he went out and now it was getting on for two hours since then.
Hendrik caught her gaze and smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, dear, he’s probably wandering round the city and forgotten the time. You know what he’s like with old buildings. He’ll spend hours gaping at them.” He chuckled at the thought and shook his head in bemusement. Where the boy had got this craving for the world of cities and history, he really didn’t know, because despite their jokes about his place of birth, there was nothing in his background to account for such a passion.
Marijke looked at him in concern. “You know he won’t ever be a skipper, don’t you Hendrik?” She looked around their tiny home. The girls had already cleaned their teeth and gone off to bed, even though it was still early. There was nothing else for them to do. She sighed, then articulated slowly. “Arie will never be satisfied with this life. He’s too hungry for the world.”
“I know that, schat.” Hendrik could only agree. He wasn’t blind to his son’s lack of interest in the only life he had ever known himself. He regretted it, but was philosophical all the same. “Maybe he’ll change his mind when he’s older and sees how his fine cities and people are really full of cheating, sin and greed.”
Marijke nodded “Yes, but he’s so full of curiosity, and he wants to know so much about life on the land.”
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, if you ask me, but he has to find that out for himself. Anyway, if he doesn’t want to be a skipper, then I’ll have to sell the barge when the time comes.” Hendrik patted her knee, raising his voice slightly to make sure she could hear. “Don’t fret, though, love, he’ll be back soon.”
Arie slowed to a walk as he came to the last bridge over the harbour where the boat was moored. He trod more carefully now as the pavement was even more slippery on the stretch over the water itself. As he crossed over, he could see the Rival as a long dark mass with only the vooronder lit by one of the streetlights. It was a nice shape, he reflected. He leant against the railings for a moment to look at it. Not often conscious of the barge itself, he was aware that it was called a Luxe Motor, and that it had very good proportions with its wheelhouse sitting before the roef and its long lean lines.
As he watched, he noticed something moving on the gunwales where nothing should have been at all. Looking more intently into the darkness, he could see that the thing was moving towards the hatch to his room in the vooronder, and then suddenly, the pool of light fell on the shape revealing it to be human. Arie’s mouth went dry, and he gasped with shock. Under his stunned gaze, the hatch opened and the shape disappeared inside.
Shock turned to excitement as Arie wondered what to do. Who could it be? And why were they creeping about so stealthily? For that matter, where had the person come from? And how had he or she got on board without being heard? He pondered about whether to alert his parents, but something told him not to. Almost bursting with suspense, he finished crossing the bridge and then ran quickly back to the barge. As he approached their mooring, he decided to say a quick goodnight to his mum and dad, apologise for being late and then head off to his room. He wanted desperately to find out what was going on, and he wanted to do it without any interference from anyone else. This was going to be his adventure, and his alone.