Of fairies, family and moving homes

plenty by anandaTITLE = PLENTY 




Maddy is angry, very angry. Her parents have decided to move from inner city Melbourne out to the country and they haven’t consulted her. Up until now, Maddy has loved her home: knowing all her neighbours (and their pets), with a close group of friends and happy rituals that have made her feel like queen of her surrounds.

Uprooted from all she loves, Maddy maintains her rage: angry with her parents and her grandma (whose early dementia is part of the reason for her move). But at her new (and very small) country school Maddy meets Grace, tall, willowy and equally uprooted; from war-torn Sudan she has travelled to rural Victoria yet in the face of considerable hardship, she simply smiles.

Can Maddy learn something from Grace? And will she forgive her grandma and be open to all she has to teach … especially when they seem to share a fondness for fairies ?

This is a gentle and enchanting story about growing up, families and the vulnerability of children. With a satisfying ending … credible and vibrant characters in Maddy, Grace and Maddy’s Greek grandma. Young readers will enjoy this little book … and it may just make them think a little more deeply about family, refugees and friendship.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****   

An intriguing study of Australia’s boat people across the ages





Faris is one of the boat people on his way to Australia with his grandmother. Fleeing their homeland, where violence and terror reign, they hope to meet his father who has fled to Australia some years earlier. They have spent their last remaining money to pay for passage on a flimsy, overcrowded boat; so when a storm hits them, Faris fears for his life and blacks out.

Thus begins this moving story about Australia’s long history of boat people. For when Faris awakens he finds himself in a kind of dreamland: living in the picture perfect Australia that he has always imagined – big houses, plenty of food and koalas and kangaroos roaming the streets. On a nearby beach he comes across a group of children like himself…yet different. Each one of these children has landed on this stretch of coast, each one was fleeing a moment of great terror, each one needed refuge from violence or fear before they could face the harsh reality of their lives.

AS Faris learns the stories of these other children he realises that he is not alone in seeking asylum in Australia: one may be a convict from Australia’s early times, one may be fleeing violence in Sudan, one may be setting out from Greece or Sri Lanka or Ireland. All of these children have seen desperate times, all must grow up fast if they are to survive.

In this book, Jackie French reminds us that we have a long history of migration, a long history of boat people; she puts a human face on a terrible political reality. This book may slip into a type of fantasy world in the coming together of so many characters from different time periods but the truth behind the story is very real. Beautifully told and with plenty to ponder. AS usual, the notes provided by the author at the end of the book, will add even greater depth and meaning to this thoughtful tale.

No wonder this book gained a Notables listing in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers)

Highly Recommended (dma) *****     

The final stunning chapter in a heartfelt series





The opening of this book may well surprise readers of the Parvana series: for it is set in a US Army base in Afghanistan and it appears that the young girl who is being questioned as a suspected terrorist is, in fact, Parvana! Readers will be on the edge of their seats wondering how this has come about and what lies ahead for Parvana.

And so the story unfolds in dual paths: part of the story recounts the interrogation process and Parvana’s imprisonment whilst alternating chapters take us back to see how events unfolded to bring Parvana to this point. We see Parvana working with her mother and sisters in setting up a school, trying to help her fellow refugees against great odds. For this education project is not welcomed by local villagers especially some very traditional men who see it as inappropriate for girls to be wasting their time on an education. The hatred that the school inspires may seem inexplicable to modern Aussie teens, but it is credibly portrayed and provides a threatening backdrop to the book.

Yet balanced against this is the more immediate threat of the Army officers who see Parvana as a potential source of danger. Will she survive against the emotional drain of interrogations or will she gain her freedom?? And why is she staying so silent anyway??

This novel cleverly brings the reader up to date with Parvana’s story whilst also introducing readers to the idea that foreign troops may be trying to bring peace to this region but they may in fact bring further torment for the surviving people of this war-ravaged land. A thought-provoking novel, in keeping with the rest of this wonderful series (“Parvana“, “Parvana’s Journey“, “Shauzia” are the previous titles in the series) .

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A moving insight into life in a refugee camp





Readers of the “Parvana” series will recall that Shauzia was Parvana’s best friend in the first book. Together they worked in the Kabul market and dreamed of one day escaping from the toil and trouble of Afghanistan and travelling to France to lie in fields of lavender.

As the title suggests, this book focusses on Shauzia’s story and how she is surviving in the refugee camp in Pakistan. Shauzia was every bit as headstrong and determined as Parvana and she is frustrated at the way of life around her. She rebels against the older women in the refugee camp and sets off alone, hoping to make it to the sea so she can travel to France, and maybe meet up with Parvana there.

However, Shauzia soon discovers that surviving on her own in the city of Peshawar is fraught with danger.  Will her headstrong nature actually prove to be a curse for Shauzia or will it give her  the will to survive??

For those who have enjoyed the “Parvana” series, this book will be a welcome addition: with strong, credible child characters and plenty of action, drama and emotion. This book is a real page turner and offers a welcome insight into refugee life which should be quite eye-opening for young Australian readers.  

 Highly Recommended (dma) *****


A compelling story of refugees, cruelty and compassion





A compelling and moving book about intolerance and compassion. In Afghanistan young Omed incurs the wrath of the Taliban and must flee his home, his village and his country. Unable to speak (due to Taliban cruelty) Omed must rely on the sneaky, shady Snake to find a way over the sea to Australia. And when he gets there he is thrown into the brutal life of a detention centre and struggles to maintain his sanity and sense of self.

Meanwhile, in suburban Melbourne another teenage boy (Hec) also lives in a world without words. However, Hec’s silence seems to be self-imposed, a response to some emotional trauma which is only gradually revealed.

The two boys meet in a candle factory where the work is tedious and the workplace poisonous. Many of the workers are refugees or immigrants and they are not always welcomed with open arms by their Aussie colleagues.

The first half of this novel can be a tough read as it focusses on Omed’s heartbreaking struggle to stay alive in a world that is both frightening and cruel. Yet despite the bleakness, Omed’s integrity and determination shines through as well as the beauty of Neil Grant’s writing. A sense of place is vividly portrayed by Grant: whether it be rural Bamiyan, modern day Kabul or Melbourne. And the characters are equally credible; we care about their journeys and the outcome of their stories. Grant also cleverly creates a different voice for the teenaged Hec and the adult Hec, which adds to the believability of the tale.

A thought provoking and powerful novel.

And if you enjoyed this novel you might like to read other books about refugees such as “The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif” in which Robert Hillman helps Najaf Mazari tell his story of eape from the Taliban. Or the powerful “From Kinglake to Kabul” edited by the author of The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant (accompanied by David Williams).

This novel is a worthy selection on the shortlist for the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) *****


The plight of child refugees

no safe place TITLE = NO SAFE PLACE

AUTHOR = Deborah Ellis

GENRE = Growing up, Survival, War, Refugees

INTEREST LEVEL = Years 8 and up

This is another powerful novel from an acclaimed author, Deborah Ellis. Once again Ellis brings the spotlight to bear on injustices in the world and how they impact on children’s lives. In this novel, she moves her focus to Europe and tells the stories of 3 young teens, from varied backgrounds, who have been brought together as refugees struggling to find safe passage to England, where they hope they will find the safety and security that they have failed to find in their homelands. Abdul has seen first hand the toll the war in Iraq takes on innocent families, women and children. Rosalia is escaping the harsh life of a Roma child sold into prostitution and Cheslav, too, has been abandoned in Russia when his Mum sought a new life as a mail order bride. All 3 children have learned how to survive against the most horrific of circumstances and this makes them cautious about trusting others, even each other. The first half of the novel is especially powerful as it conveys the harsh life of a refugee child and the skill and stamina needed just to stay alive. We learn about each child’s back story via flashbacks which allows the reader to sympathise with each of the children. However, some of the action in the second half of the novel seems a little too tidy and convenient (especially in the children’s ability to steer a large yacht) so the sense of compelling action is diminished. Perhaps not Ellis’ best work but still this novel provides an eye opener to world events that Aussie children may know little about. Those who have enjoyed reading the Parvana trilogy will find this novel to be a worthy and interesting read.

Read more about Deborah Ellis and her books on her publisher’s website

Recommended (dma) ****

A brilliant blend of humour and pathos

loose lipsTITLE = LOOSE LIPS

AUTHOR = Chris Wheat



Vistaview Secondary College seems to be peopled with rather eccentric students: from Zeynap (obsessed with wardrobe neatness), to Matilda (obsessed with dogs), to Angelo (obsessed with Georgia who is obsessed with avoiding Angelo), to Chelsea (obsessed with poking her nose into everyone’s business). Hilarious consequences ensue from all these competing obsessions and there are many truly laugh out loud moments. However, there is also room for more genuine emotion, as we see how family and friends respond as Josh carefully and cautiously reveals to each of them that he is gay. The conversations that follow are sometimes painful, sometimes poignant and sometimes laced with gentle humour. Khiem’s story also provides a counterbalance to some of the humour as this young Vietnamese orphaned refugee struggles to free himself from criminal elements of his community. All in all, a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable novel. (And if you like this one, pick up the sequel in Screw Loose)

Highly Recoomended (dma) *****

Wow! A new Marchetta novel – with a twist!

by Melina Marchetta (MAR)
At first this fantasy may seem like a change of pace and genre for Marchetta; but at its heart is the story of a young person searching for his place in the world – a theme which dominates Marchetta’s other novels. Whilst “Finnikin of the Rock” is set in an imaginary world of knights, sword fighting and magic, there are many parallels with our modern world of displaced people searching for their homeland, of ethnic cleansing and of inhumanity towards our fellow man. The role played in society by leaders (political and religious), guides, warriors and kings is cleverly interwoven into the central story of Finnikin learning to trust himself and the love he develops for Evanjalin. Partnership between men & women – the role each can play in society and in marriage is also explored whilst the truth behind the prophecy that begins the novel, is gradually revealed. The central characters are strongly drawn; their dialogue, their actions (often unexpected) and their moral conflicts are believable. The imaginary world is well crafted and credible; it may take the reader some time to fully understand this world but the extra effort required is worth it. Dare I say it, the love story that gradually takes pre-eminence in this tale, is just as intense and perhaps more credibly realised, than that evoked over the four books in the “Twilight” series. The combination of a cohesively created imaginary world, strong principal characters and the central themes of identity and love should appeal to both boys and girls, fantasy and non-fantasy buffs alike.
Highly Recommended

(dma) *****