The School Ship Tobermory series by Alexander McCall Smith

The School Ship Tobermory series takes a crew of likable middle-graders to exotic ports in pursuit of adventure.

School Ship Tobermory and The Sands of Shark Island (SST #1 and 2) by Alexander McCall Smith.  Delacorte, 2016, 250 pages.

Reading Level: middle grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-12

Ben and Fiona (Fee) McTavish are two of the luckiest kids alive.  Since their mom and dad are marine biologists who spend months on their research sub, the twins go to school on a schooner, the Tobermory.  While sailing to exotic ports of call, they man the rigging and have adventures between lessons.  Most of their multicultural schoolmates are good eggs, but three are mainly good for causing trouble.  Captain Macbeth, Mr. Riggers (of the world-famous mustaches), Cook, Matron, and Miss Worsfold make up the adult crew, all of whom take a turn at teaching and dispensing wise advice.

Much as I love the author’s Precious Ramotswe series, these books seem a bit flat.  The artful simplicity that works so well in a Botswana setting could use a little turbo-charging here, mostly with the characters who are either pleasant and sunny or sneaky and vindictive.  The sea and the ship get full and respectful treatment, and readers will learn a lot about seafaring in pursuit of these adventures.  It’s solid if not sparkling storytelling, with no objectionable elements.

Cautions: None

Overall Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic value: 3


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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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