Rivet Boy by Barbara Henderson

Published by Cranachan

RIVET Boy is an ode not only to one of Scotland’s greatest landmarks but also to children forced to grow up too fast due to circumstance.

The story by Barbara Henderson is inspired by the building of the Forth Bridge in the late 1800s, the dangers of the environment and its youngest workers.

Henderson combines knowledge of Scottish history with an engaging fictional story to create the inspirational and emotional tale of young John Nicol who even in his Victorian setting is an easy character to follow and root for.

Not long after John was born, his father tragically died in an accident while working on a bridge. As a widow with a family to support, John’s mother received charity in order to raise her son.

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With the help of this money, and the work of John’s ageing grandfather, his mother is able to make it through, However, when John turns 12, and with this charity running out, and him reaching an age whereby he is allowed to leave school to seek work, he has no choice but to get a job in order to become the main breadwinner for his family.

John is forced to accept the harsh reality that doing what he prefers – having fun and learning at school with his peers – is not an option for him and instead he must face the very thing which killed his father – working on a bridge.

The building of the Forth Bridge is in full swing and requires workers, so he gains a position on the team handling rivets. While not initially forced to climb the heights and risk falling, a fate many have suffered, he knows he cannot avoid it, but his fear of it builds...

When finally assigned to a team that means he has to confront his biggest fear of climbing the bridge, he seeks comfort wherever he can.

In the new Carnegie Library, John nurtures a love of reading and finds moments of peace. He also cares for an injured squirrel that has taken a liking to him.

These moments of childlike joy and peace, sense of wonder in nature and art around him are intertwined with the unimaginable pressure of performing a dangerous job and supporting a family financially while wishing instead to be in school learning or caring for small animals.

The mixture of innocence and resilience he demonstrates over the course of the book makes him the kind of main character young people can relate to and look to when they are challenged.

Alongside John’s individual story, there are references to his societal and historical surroundings, making this one of those children’s books which both tells a gripping story and also teaches valuable lessons about life in Victorian Scotland.

This is the perfect upcoming release to give as a gift to the young person in your life with an interest in Scottish history as it really brings the era to life. Its treatment of the themes of friendship, family and facing one’s fears are always engaging and it helps to explain the human cost required to build one of Scotland’s most recognisable landmarks.