Reviews /

Rivet Boy

Authored by Barbara Henderson
Published by Cranachan Publishing

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Rivet Boy is historical fiction based on, and including, real live events surrounding the building of the Forth Bridge. The blend of coming-of-age story and adventure plus detail from the Victorian age and famous figures from the time ensures that this book deserves a place in the classroom or school library as both part of a reading for pleasure collection and as a useful teaching resource. 

Twelve-year-old John Nicol’s father died before he was born and he is now a reluctant breadwinner, obtaining a job on the Forth Bridge construction site to support his mother, ailing grandfather and baby sister. Forced to behave as an adult when he yearns to be back at school, learning and playing, with his friends, John also has to overcome his fear of heights if he is to succeed. The new Carnegie library near his home becomes both his comfort and his escape and it is there that the kindly librarian, Mr Peebles, takes young John under his wing acting as his mentor and reading guide. Although John is a quick learner and does well in the workshops his skills and his courage will be tested when he is sent to work on the bridge itself as one of Cain Murdoch’s team. John faces many challenges as he endeavours to cope with the job, his fears and his scheming and bad tempered new boss who will stop at nothing to get his own way. 

There are several aspects of this engaging story that will appeal to young readers. John himself is a likeable and relatable narrator, his growing friendship with Cora, a girl with a wish to become an engineer one day and his bond with the red squirrel he rescues all add to the appeal of the book to children. That this story is rooted in historical fact and the lives of real people provides an insight into the experiences of many in Victorian Britain. The Carnegie library had opened shortly before the events of the story took place and John’s thirst for knowledge and love of books is a key component of the story. The autograph book sent to John by his aunt in America is a neat plot device enabling Barbara Henderson to incorporate the famous Victorians in a believable manner, although the visits to the bridge did in fact take place. Also, the woman young Cora so admires, Margaret Moir, was a founder member of the Women’s Engineering Society. The intertwining of historical fact and exciting story is extremely well executed enabling readers to learn alongside being entertained.  

The information about the building of the bridge is fascinating from both an historical and technical point of view and the author has provided helpful background and interesting photos at the end of the book which could prompt further research in the classroom. Rivet Boy lends itself to cross-curricular work related to history plus STEAM subjects. At just over 150 pages and with short chapters this is a relatively quick read which teachers may find helpful if using as a class read-aloud.