New Zealand sisters’ farm truck tale scoops book awards

Senior Editor

A children’s book written by two New Zealand sisters that draws on their memories of the 1921 Republic truck they grew up with, is drawing rave reviews.
Barely over jet lag from a return flight from Michigan where the book was released in June, author Jennifer Somervell, says she was completely stunned by the news.
The book, called “The New Old Truck” has captured several awards as ‘a magnificent children’s book which combines family history with international travel and times.”
Illustrated by the author’s sister, Margery Fern, the story explores the love affair of children on a farm with their aging “Old Truck” and their campaign to save him.
The real Old Truck, a 1921 Model 10 Republic, was restored by their brother John Somervell, keeping a promise he made his father when he was 12 years old.
But the project faltered when parts of the truck were lost in a garage fire.
The truck went through a long period uncovered, and finally the flood waters of the river adjacent to John’s home, swept over the bonnet.
Altogether, it took John more than 35 years and three complete restorations before he realized his promise to his father and showed the truck at a national vintage rally — a very proud day in 2012.
“His dedication and faithfulness to Old Truck touched my heart,” said Jennifer. “I felt there was a story and a message in it for children and adults as well. To John the truck was important in that it connected him to family now gone.
“To children reading the story Old Truck is a living part of the family — to abandon it would be like abandoning your grandfather!”
John told his sisters that the truck was made in Alma, Mich.
Both teachers, they thought this was interesting educationally. So when the book sold out in New Zealand in 2013, Jennifer’s husband sourced historical material from Alma Public Library in Michigan to incorporate in the revised edition.
They were delighted when the library, already a publisher of historical books, put up their hand to distribute the book in America. “The New Old Truck” was launched in Alma, surrounded by vintage Republic trucks. Alma library director, Bryan Dinwoody said it was “a unique association brought together by a truck that is almost a century old!”
Jennifer, who attended the launch with her husband said, “Old Truck would have been very much at home, surrounded by his aged, extended family!”
In Michigan Jennifer saw the book connecting people with their history, just as it has in New Zealand. Prior to the launch she and her husband visited local schools in central Michigan.
Says Jennifer, “It’s neat that Old Truck ‘came home’, in a children’s book. In classrooms, children were really interested — in the truck, in New Zealand and the family connections and in their town’s ‘truck history’. They were amazed to learn that Alma once produced thousands of world class trucks.”