Seven books to sail the seven seas

Published on: 30 March 2021 Author: Nicola Skinner

Author Nicola Skinner's new book, Starboard, is about a young girl who embarks on an incredible adventure across the high seas on a ship that comes to life. Nicola shares her seven favourite tales about ships and sailing - perfect for readers hungry for adventure on the oceans! 

Shipwreck Island by Struan Murray

The ship in this book is, technically, not going anywhere – rather, it juts out of a city like a skyscraper, the most secretive thing in an island full of secrets. I love Struan’s descriptive lyricism. This is the first moment the heroine sees the ship: ‘Though it must once have been made entirely from wood, parts of it had been built over in stone, as if it had petrified with time, transfiguring it from a ship into a palace.’

Voyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

The Sparrowhawk is a red and green canal narrowboat that belongs to orphaned, grieving Ben. His sudden friendship with Lotti, a girl on the run from boarding school, propels them into an audacious adventure that takes the Sparrowhawk far away: from her usual watering holes towards an ocean she’s not totally ready for. I fell hard for the brave, loyal, plucky narrowboat in this life-affirming, poetic and very funny tale, who ‘does what she’s always done – rescue people.’

Read our review

Voyage of the SparrowhawkVoyage of the Sparrowhawk by Natasha Farrant

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

This story about a young boy coming to terms with the hypocrisy of the slave system in America has drawn as much criticism as it has admiration, partly for its language. That aside, I adore it and still think it’s worth a close reading. Jim, a run-away slave, and Huck, his companion and friend, escape from the Deep South on a stolen raft which is more than a means of transport – it is freedom, a place to witness the brutality of their country, a haven where they see each other in new ways. 

Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar

This is a wonderful, swashbuckling debut from Kuzniar, and features a ship after my own heart – full of magic, and shadows, and secrets. Proper ships are more than mere vessels – they’re another world, entirely, with their own rules, and an atmosphere so evocative you feel yourself changing to suit it. Kuzniar’s book pays homage to this giddy mix fantastically.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS LewisThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis

Edmund and Lucy Pevensie and the odious Eustace, their cousin, fall into a Narnia ocean through an unwanted picture of an old ship. This book was so vital to me when thinking of Starboard because I have a terrible sense of geography, and realised that if I thought like CS Lewis, and just made everything up, I too could write a book about a globe-trotting ship even if I didn’t always know where Spain was. The author’s imagination is at the height of its powers here: an ocean made of lilies – a speaking mouse called Reepicheep – a main character turning into a dragon? Skills, Lewis, skills.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean, by LD Lapinski

Lapinski’s first Strangeworlds book came out in the beginning of lockdown and I loved it intensely, and her gutsy, pacey world-building is equally strong in this very nautical follow-up. There are ships and boats and captains and merpeople and an ocean that is rapidly shrinking, and the denouement is hands-down one of the most exciting and beautifully plotted climax I have read in ages.

Sea by Sarah Driver 

‘Who am I without my ship?’ Driver’s fantasy trilogy really delivers dark and twisty thrills in this first instalment of her Huntress trilogy, featuring a girl whose tribe lives on ships – in this case, The Huntress (what an amazing name for a ship!) Inventive, incredible story-telling happens here, and the story of a girl who knows she will be a Captain one day is close to my own heart.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by LD LapinskiStrangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by LD Lapinski

Follow Nicola Skinner on Twitter.

Read our reviews of Bloom and Storm.

Topics: Features

What to read after

We know that children can get hooked on a favourite book series or author and struggle to find something they love as much, but we're here to help.

From Harry Potter to Enid Blyton find out what to read next...

Find out more