UNSW lecture March 2014
Suggested texts for the Australian Curriculum
Every year for many years past I have been asked to give a lecture at the University of New South Wales to students who are studying to become secondary English teachers. Usually I have been asked to introduce students to relatively new texts - especially novels - that will work well for class set use in the secondary English classroom.
Often, my lecture is the basis for students' first assignment of the year, where they have to select one of the titles I have presented and prepare a unit of work on that text.
In 2014 I was asked to confine myself to texts that would meet the requirements of two of the three Australian cross-curriculum priorities: Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.
Tutors decided to restrict students' choice for their assignments to 15 of the texts I had selected, but they were keen for me to provide students with notes on a much wider range of titles, partly so that students could find suggestions for related texts to use with the main text of their choice but also so that they would become familiar with titles that are widely used in schools.
The titles chosen for students' assignments were: The Black-beared Bai and Other Plays from Asian Folklore, The Burnt Stick, The First Voyage, The Ink Bridge, In the Sea There are Crocodiles, I Was Only Nineteen, Jandamarra, Nanberry: Black Brother White, Never Fall Down, The Rainbow Troops, The Sapphires, Shake a Leg, A Taste of Cockroach and Ubby's Underdogs.
Here are the notes I prepared for the students. The titles are in alphabetical order, not in the order that I presented in the lecture.
Antipodes: Poetic Responses
edited by Margaret Bradstock. Phoenix Education, 2011. ISBN 9781921586392. 163 pp.
This very useful anthology focuses on poetry that is about the relationship between blacks and whites in Australia. There is an excellent introduction by Elizabeth Webby outlining the changing attitudes of white Australian writers and the eventual appearance of Australian Indigenous voices. Many of the poems published here, especially those by recent writers, are ones that you won’t find in other anthologies. There’s an exciting selection of contemporary works, as well as some classics. Poets represented include W. C. Wentworth, Mary Gilmore, Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright, Rex Ingamells, Douglas Stewart, James McAuley, Francis Webb, Les Murray, Geoff Page, Anita Heiss, Samuel Wagan Watson, Tony Birch, Jeff Guess, Judy Johnson, Chris Mansell and John Mateer.
Recommendation: This is a rich source of related texts. You will draw on this regularly in your teaching, from Years 7 - 12. There is also a teacher's book that provides information about the poets and the poems and activities using individual poems and groups of poems.
Australians All: A History of Growing Up from the Ice Age to the Apology
by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Ken Searle. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781742370972. 281 pp. Hardcover.
Aimed at an upper-primary lower-secondary readership, this is a magnificent achievement. Wheatley
The greatest strength of the history in my opinion is the story of our Indigenous peoples - especially of the traditional way of life that 'provided a healthier diet and much more leisure time than the lifestyle endured by the peasant farmers of Europe'. Wheatley records the stories of a number of Indigenous children whose families returned each year to homes that provided a rich supply of food in the right season.
The book has an appendix that gives us information about what happened to the children and their families in later life. There is also a glossary.
Recommendation: This is an invaluable source of related texts.
Wheatley conducted a great many interviews during her research for Australians All. She collected her interviews with Indigenous Australians in a book called Playground, which is also listed here.
The ABC's Hindsight program recently recorded an interview with Nadia Wheatley, where she talks about ten of the stories she collected. We hear directly from some of the people whose childhood stories appear in the collection. The interview can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/hindsight/children-in-history27s-page/5188998.
Ayu and the Perfect Moon
by David Cox. Walker Books, 2011 (1984). ISBN 978192172022.
This is a delightful picture book for young readers about traditional dance in Bali. Ayu learns the Legong, which young girls traditionally perform for the village on the night of the full moon. It is great to see this paperback reprint, making the book easily accessible in the classroom.
Recommendation: This is a picture book for younger readers that can still be enjoyed by secondary school students. This would be a great introduction to a cross-curricular unit on traditional Asian arts, in cooperation with your Drama, Art and Music departments.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum
by Katherine Boo. Scribe Publications, 2012. ISBN 9781921844638. 288 pp.
This beautifully written and fascinating book is factual text but the reading experience is very much
Boo chose to present her research by telling the story of three families who live in the slum. The first is the family of Abdul, who is possibly sixteen, possibly nineteen, and the family breadwinner; Abdul has become a skilled recycler, scavenging though 'the things that richer people threw away'. The second is the family of the ambitious and ruthless Asha, who aspires to be the next slumlord; her daughter, Manju, is the only college-going girl in Annawadi but regrettably does not share her mother's pursuit of material gain at all costs. The third is that of Fatima, universally known as One Leg, who is desperately jealous of Abdul's family's relative prosperity. In a self-destructive rage, Fatima burns herself grievously in a fire and blames Abdul. Much of the narrative of the book centres on this incident and its consequences.
These people are real people that Boo met in the slum, but she writes about them as if they are characters in a novel, so that they come vividly to life, and she informs us about them by telling their stories. Boo supplements her main characters with a large cast, especially of road boys, scavengers that Abdul knows, and corrupt officials. In the world Boo presents, corruption is endemic at every level, especially amongst the police, lawyers and court workers, from the highest to the lowest. Innocence is useless in the justice system; money and influence are everything. The conditions in gaol are even worse than those of slum existence.
At the end of the book, Boo contemplates the situation where the pressure of survival is so great that people simply cannot afford compassion for others:
It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in undercities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be ...
Recommendation: This text is written for adults and it is a sophisticated and fairly demanding read, but as mentioned earlier it is beautifully written and offers unforgettable insights into the lives of those who are forgotten in the huge societal changes brought about by globalisation. It could work very well as the non-fiction choice for a mature Year 10 class.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is also an excellent resource for related material. Many of the incidents are fairly self-contained and passages of description are vivid.
The film, Slumdog Millionaire, is a useful related text for a study of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It is directed by Danny Boyle and was released in 2008. However, note that it is rated MA and may not be appropriate for use in class.
The Best Day of My Life
by Deborah Ellis. Allen & Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742379142. 168 pp.
The opening sentence reads: ‘The best day of my life was the day I found out I was all alone in the world.’
Valli doesn't know how old she is - probably nine or ten. Her job is to pick up coal, any stray lumps that she can find. She has to be quick about it, as the bosses regard this as stealing. She is not allowed to go to school, although she hangs around the open-air classroom when she can and has taught herself to write in the dirt with a stick. On this particular day she learns that the family she lives with are not her relations, as she has always believed; they had been paid to take her as a baby after her unmarried mother died in childbirth. The discovery sets her free in a way: there is no reason to stay in Jharia, scavenging for lumps of coal. So she hides in the back of one of the coal trucks.
This is an easier read than some of Ellis's other novels, such as the Parvana series, but some teachers may worry whether it is too dark for primary or junior secondary students. When the truck drivers find Valli hidden in their load, they try to sell her to a brothel. She is saved when the madam recognises that Valli is showing signs of leprosy. Valli becomes one of the many homeless street kids struggling to survive on the streets of Kolkata.
The novel exposes with Ellis's usual perceptiveness the plight of lepers and of street children in India, but it is not depressing. Valli is a wonderfully resilient and engaging character, funny and bright. As always, Ellis provides young readers with a positive and inspiring ending.
Jharia is a real place. Just as a study of Trash (listed below) can be enhanced by looking at photos of the huge garbage dumps in Manila, a study of The Best Day of My Life should include some of the images of Jharia that can be found on the internet: the women in their brightly coloured saris carrying on their heads huge baskets of coal as they toil up the narrow steep trails that Ellis describes; the children blackened by coal dust; the air thick with choking dust.
Recommendation: This is well worth considering for class set use in Year 7. Yes, it is dark - but it is also a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit, and a demonstration of our common humanity, no matter how different our circumstances.
Related texts could include some of Ellis's other work, such as the Parvana series set in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Parvana, Parvana's Journey, Shauzia and Parvana's Promise. Other related texts could include some of those written for this age group about the lives of other young girls, such as Homeless Girl by Gloria Whelan, about the plight of young widows in India, and Spilled Water by Sally Grindley, about child factory workers in China. Broken Glass, also by Sally Grindley, is about two brothers who find themselves forced to scavenge for a living on the streets of an Indian city; it is aimed at the same age group and is a useful companion piece to The Best Day of My Life.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers (see annotation above) is for a very different audience but could provide some related material.
The Black-bearded Bai and Other Plays from Asian Folklore
by Richard Baines. Phoenix Education, 2013. ISBN 9781921586699. 168 pp.
This is a collection of six short plays, all based on traditional tales from Asia and all written to be read and performed in secondary English classrooms. The tales are from Vietnam, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan and India. The stage adaptations have been made with an eye on students' tastes: these are very modern adaptations, with lots of action, some wicked - and often black - humour, and plenty of visual gags. There are detailed stage directions, both at the beginning of each script and throughout, and some suggestions for classroom discussion and follow-up at the end of each play.
My favourite is the title story, 'The Black-hearted Bai', described as a play about 'the triumph of intelligence over brute force'. The brutish bully gets his comeuppance very satisfactorily, but there is an amusing twist at the end where the triumphant good guy reveals nefarious plans. When 'The Director' - one of the cast - complains that that's not the proper ending, he is told that this is the modern version. The play uses in an exaggerated way the sort of distancing techniques characteristic of Brechtian theatre: students who perform 'The Black-hearted Bai' will never have problems understanding Brechtian theatre.
The last play in the collection - 'Harisarman' - has sequences of the kind found in Bollywood musicals. It would be great fun exploring examples of Bollywood film with students as preparation for their staging their own version.
Recommendation: These plays offer a good balance of action, excitement and humour, as well as an introduction to the folktales of Asia. They are practical scripts that students will be able to perform. They will have most fun if they can perform them on a real stage with lighting, but they will work in the classroom too. They would be best with students in Year 9 or 10, as some references are a little too mature for younger classes. They are also a great springboard for students working to turn other traditional tales into playscripts.
The Blue-eyed Aborigine
by Rosemary Hayes. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2010. ISBN 9781847800787. 247 pp.
This is a further title in the gallery of books - for both young adult and adult audiences - about the
Recommendation: This is a well-written novel that could be considered for class set use for Year 8.
by Morris Gleitzman. Puffin, 2002. ISBN 9780141308388. 181 pp.
In many ways this is the same book that Gleitzman has been writing for years: a story told by an innocent first-person narrator (whether Pommy migrant kid, a mute or a cane toad) who has a sometimes achingly painful sense of responsibility for the family’s welfare. The narrator’s anxious and often ill-conceived attempts to improve the family’s lot lead to all kinds of comic disasters. At their best, Gleitzman’s books achieve a remarkable tension between real sadness and laugh-aloud comedy.
In this case, the narrator is an Afghan boy whose family are fleeing the Taliban and who become enmeshed in John Howard’s Pacific solution. Some adults will be uncomfortable with the apparently flippant treatment of such a subject, but I think it can be very successful in helping Australian kids understand that those demonised boat people are families not all that different from their own, with kids with whom they can identify. Alongside the humour, there is horror as well as sadness: women being executed in the soccer stadium in Kabul; pirates searching the refugees’ boat for young girls; Jamal’s fear that his parents have drowned; the news that they are not welcome in Australia. The humour is a blessed reminder of the resilience of human beings, even in the face of terrible inhumanity.
Gleitzman’s opposition to the Australian government’s treatment of the boat people is clear, but his anger is admirably restrained, limited to the occasional irony such as: ‘Thank goodness Australians are so good at thinking of others.’
Recommendation: This is a fairly easy read and could be used from Year 4 to Year 9, although most schools will opt for Year 7. It would be interesting to explore with gifted kids the advantages and limitations of telling the story differently, without the humour.
Bran Nue Dae
directed by Rachel Perkins. 2009. PG.
This was based on a very popular musical comedy for stage performance. In transforming the original
Bran Nue Dae is about a teenager called Willie growing up in Broome in Western Australia in the 1960s. Willie is keen on Rosie, but his devout mother wants him to become a priest and sends him away to a boarding school in Perth run by Father Benedictus. Willie misses home and Rosie and decides to run away. The scene where Willie stands up and defies Father Benedictus is the highlight of the film. Much of the film is about his crazy journey home and the colourful characters he meets on his way.
Recommendation: This can be used in any year, from 7 - 10.
by Sally Grindley. Bloomsbury, 2008. ISBN 9780747586159. 275 pp.
This is an easy-to-read novel for the Year 5 to 8 age group about two boys who run away from a violent home, believing that their depressed father will stop mistreating their mother once they are gone. They have lived a comfortable existence in an Indian village in a two-bedroom house with a kitchen and a room in which to watch television. Unlike some others in their village, they have
This is a realistic picture of the conditions of homeless children in India. The author is careful to expose the grimness of the life without traumatising young readers too much. She provides some hope at the end for the boys. The novel provides an opportunity for exposing readers to other worlds.
Recommendation: Use this alongside other stories that will open the eyes of Australian young people to the lives of children in other countries, including other novels by Grindley, works by Deborah Ellis and the new series from Allen & Unwin, 'Through My Eyes'.
Brown Skin Blue
by Belinda Jeffrey. University of Queensland Press, 2009. ISBN 9780702237133. 211 pp.
Known as Barramundy, the first-person narrator of this story is living with trauma from his past. His white mother refuses to tell him the identity of his father and he does not know whether his brown skin means that his father was Indigenous. He and his mother have lived a nomadic and unsettled existence, and the job at the Top End Croc Jumping Cruises gives him a sense of belonging for the
Barramundy's present is haunted by memories of child abuse. These memories are quite explicit, as are his first positive sexual encounters with the girl who works in the cafe, Sally. Most schools will find the explicitness uncomfortable for classroom use. The novel has a great deal to offer readers, however. The narrative is compelling and the reader is absorbed by Barry's quest to understand his origins. The knowledge when it comes is horrifying, but Barry finds the strength to deal with it and the resolution of the novel is satisfying and credible.
Recommendation: Most schools will not be able to use this as a class set novel but try to find opportunities for recommending it to mature readers in Years 9 and 10, especially boys. Many readers will identify with Barry's inarticulateness. It would be good for them too to discover his ultimate resilience and maturity.
The Burnt Stick
by Anthony Hill, illustrated by Mark Sofilas. Puffin, 1996. ISBN 9780140369298. 64 pp.
This wonderfully accessible story can be read at any age, but it was widely adopted for class sets for
Recommendation: This is a golden oldie that is worth remembering – because there are so few titles about Indigenous Australians that have such an impact on kids who have little knowledge of Indigenous Australia, and because there is always a dearth of titles that are both simple and emotionally powerful. The Burnt Stick is short and simple enough to read aloud, so you can manage even with just one copy. If you do that, be sure to share the magnificently evocative illustrations with your students.
by Julia Lawrence. Penguin Books, 2006. ISBN 9780143003823. 265 pp.
Set in rural Western Australia in the 1960s, this is a reminder that the golden age of Australia’s past
Recommendation: Girls in Years 9 and 10 will find this moving and disturbing.
This could be used as a class set with a mixed-ability Year 9 class. Use it alongside other titles about the lives of Indigenous teenagers, such as Moloney’s Dougy trilogy or Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly Unna.
The China Coin
by Allan Baillie. Puffin, 1992. ISBN 9780140347531. 192 pp.
This has been a popular class text, mainly in Years 7 and 8, although it has been used successfully with older classes of ESL students. It is the story of an Australian-born Chinese girl making a trip to China with her Malaysian-Chinese mum. The opening section, where the girl is in a plane heading for
Baillie has used the device of a broken coin as an excuse to send his characters travelling around China: they are searching for the other half of the coin, held by family members somewhere in China. We see a range of lifestyles in China: most interestingly, that of a two-thousand-year-old village that has scarcely changed through the centuries. And, finally, we see Beijing at the time of the Tiananmen Square disturbances. Baillie was actually there in Beijing at the time, and the final scenes of the book have a great deal of authenticity.
Recommendation: This works well as a text for whole class study.
Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter
by Adeline Yen Mah. Puffin, 1999. ISBN 9780141304878. 252 pp.
This very useful text is widely used to meet the non-fiction requirement for Year 7 or 8. It’s a
Recommendation: Chinese Cinderella is very widely used in Year 7, but it is also used at Year 9 level with less academic classes. The full adult version – Falling Leaves (Penguin ISBN 9780140265989) - is often used in Years 9 to 10, especially with girls, alongside other autobiographical books set in China such as Wild Swans and Mao’s Last Dancer.
by Oliver Phommavanh. Puffin Books, 2011. ISBN 9780143304869. 216 pp.
This is even funnier than the author’s previous title, Thai-riffic (listed below) – and, again, at times quite moving. The main character is an Australian boy of Chinese background who is being forced to attend high-pressure coaching classes, when all he wants to do is draw cartoons. He is an engaging character, as is his persistent, misguided but well-meaning mother. The characters are perhaps stereotyped, but this is mitigated by the fact that the protagonist is struggling so hard to escape that stereotype.
Recommendation: While Con-nerd is a delightful read, it may be a bit young for class set use at secondary level. The boy and his friends are in Year 6.
by Kate Constable. Allen & Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742373959. 252 pp.
This is an intriguing time-slip mystery that brings together a lonely girl from the present and a tragedy from the 1930s, linked by stories from the Dreamtime. Sadie is astonished to discover that
Sadie at first hates the little country town of Boort and is angry that her mother has brought her, against her will, to live there. Ellie has happy memories of the place she used to visit as a child and still has friends in the town, but Sadie feels isolated and out of place. On one of her solitary rambles she discovers the dried out lake, with the once-drowned ruins of a homestead and a family burial plot. She finds as well a mysterious stone circle with ancient carvings, a sacred place that was violated when the artificial lake was constructed decades earlier. It is here that Crow first speaks to her.
Boort is a real town in Victoria, and it is vividly evoked by Constable - both the drought-stricken physical landscape and the rather claustrophobic social environment, centred on the pub and the Saturday afternoon football games. As Sadie begins to know the people of the town, she is torn between Lachie, the attractive son of the wealthy landowner who owns the land where the sacred site is situated, and Walter, nephew of her mother's old boyfriend, David. Walter is Aboriginal and has come to live with his uncle after getting into trouble with the police. For the first time, he is learning from the elders about his heritage. He accepts Sadie's story that Crow has spoken to her and her accounts of the moments when she has found herself back in the person of another Sadie, a girl of her own age living in the 1930s. It is these time-slip moments that reveal to Sadie the truth about the long-ago tragedy.
The country town of Boort, as depicted by Constable, is still plagued by underlying racial tensions: the townspeople make obvious their disapproval of Ellie's relationship with David. Ellie as a young woman had been intimidated by this disapproval, but she will not allow it again to get in the way of her personal happiness. Constable is very successful at showing the warmth and loving acceptance of the extended Aboriginal families.
The novel has a preface, written by Aboriginal elder Gary Murray of the Dja Dja Wurrung Yung Balug clan, for whom the crow is their main totem. Murray gives Constable permission to structure her story around Crow. 'Crow comes from this place; this place comes from Crow.' The novel explores the ongoing relationship between Australia's first peoples and their land and the vital importance of preserving their heritage.
Recommendation: Crow Country is an absorbing fantasy for students in the Year 6 - 8 age group. Like most good fantasy, it is also firmly based in the real world.
by Phillip Gwynne. Penguin, 1998. ISBN 9780141300498. 272 pp.
Gwynne based this novel on his own life as a teenager in the seventies, growing up in a small coastal town in South Australia - a town in which whites and blacks lived strictly separate lives, apart from footy training and the Saturday game. Gwynne tells the story from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Gary 'Blacky' Black. Blacky becomes friends with one of the Nunga boys, Dumby Red, a talented footballer who is overlooked for 'Best on Field' in favour of the coach's much less skilled (white) son.
Gwynne is good at capturing the life of the town and its residents. Blacky is one of seven kids, with a drunken and brutal father and an exhausted mother, living a tough life at 'the Port'. Dumby Red and his mob live half an hour out of town at 'the Point'. While much of the book is about the boys' shared passion for football, the climax comes when Dumby Red and two of his brothers are shot as they try to break into a local pub. In coming to terms with the tragedy, Blacky has to decide where he stands in relation to the pervasive racism with which he has grown up.
Recommendation: This is widely used in Years 9 or 10 and is especially successful with boys.
The film based on this novel - Australian Rules, directed by Paul Goldman(2002) - is rated MA. It was during the making of the film that the question of ownership of this story came up. Gwynne insisted that his novel was based on personal memories from his adolescence; the Indigenous community were offended that he was using the real deaths of their boys in his work.
The Devil You Know
Set in Darwin, this is the story of a troubled teenage boy - Damien - and his relationship with the violent father '88', whom he hardly knows. Damien's Mum is Indigneous, and although '88' has returned to live with her again, his attitude is offensively racist, especially to some of the locals who have nurtured Damien and given him some knowledge of his Indigenous heritage.
Despite a rocky start to their relationship, there is finally some understanding between Damien and his father, as well as some growth on Damien's part to self-esteem.
Recommendation: The intended audience is boys in Years 9 - 10.
The First Voyage
by Allan Baillie. Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9780143307679. 184 pp.
Set thirty thousands years ago, this novel explores what it must have been like for Australia's first
The story is told through the eyes of a teenage boy, Bent Beak, from the tiny Yam tribe. Bent Beak's people have been on the move for some time: they had lived previously on Long Island, with its huge mountains and 'the jungle that roared at night', but that had been only a short crossing, made on a calm day, to an island that was visible across the water. The Yam tribe's enemies, the much larger tribe - the Crocodile people - had also come from Long Island, and more of them cross over to Bird Island every day. Bent Beak's father and other members of the Yam tribe have been killed by Crocodile warriors, whose spears have sharp flint stones that are superior to the spears the Yam tribe use for hunting and fishing. The Yam tribe Elder, Eagle Eye, knows that the only way to save his people is to move on again - to follow the birds that fly south. In a postscript, Baillie identifies Long Island as the Indonesian islands where Flores, Lembata, Pulau Alor, Ataura and Palau Wetar can be found today.
We share Bent Beak's journey, as the warriors cut the tall black bamboo that they will use to construct their fragile rafts, as they struggle against the attacks of the Crocodile people, and as the women and children gather food and water to take with them on the voyage. As their food and water dwindle, their greatest threat is the unknown: they have no idea how far away the land that Eagle Eye insists must be there might be. There are five rafts in the beginning, but they are separated in a terrifying storm. Bent Beak's raft finally breaks up on rocks on the shore of a land that is bountiful in some ways - an abundance of oysters and fresh water - but threatening in others, occupied by giant animals unlike anything the Yam tribe has seen before.
While The First Voyage can be categorised as historical fiction, it is also a kind of fantasy. This is a superb imaginative adventure on the part of the author, as he uses his knowledge of the landscapes and of the sea to picture what the journey might have been like for Bent Beak and his companions.
We come to know well each member of the tribe on Bent Beak's raft. Bent Beak himself is an engaging character and we share his concern for the safety of the girl he loves, The Wind, and of the orphaned Waterlily. The old man, Eagle Eye, who had the courage to persuade his people to venture into the unknown, dies almost in sight of land, but a new life, Moonlight's baby, is born. Distant smoke even suggests that other rafts have survived the journey.
I don't usually reveal as much as that about the ending of a novel, but the ending is not what is most important here. We know this is a story about the first peoples coming to Australia, so we are not surprised that some of them make it. The interest is in the journey - the fascinating detail of the getting there. Baillie brilliantly imagines those details, especially the construction of the bamboo rafts.
While the link is never made specifically, the reader can't help but think of other boat people making perilous voyages in fragile craft to escape their enemies, as the Yam people fled the Crocodile tribe.
Recommendation: This short, fast-paced novel offers young people a fascinating insight into what might have been. It deserves a place in our selection of titles to explore Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. It will work well as a class set title with Years 7 and 8. It would be interesting to use the opening sections of Wheatley's Australians All alongside a reading of this novel. Wheatley presents the history as we know it, with some insight as to where our knowledge has come from; Baillie has drawn on this knowledge but has shaped it with his imagination to give us a sense of the lived experience.
The Flying Emu: A Collection of Australian Stories
These are not authentic Aboriginal stories but rather stories in the tradition of Aboriginal storytelling – stories told to explain natural phenomena, such as the fact that the emu is a flightless bird. There are ten stories in the collection and they are very readable – or great for reading aloud. They are beautifully presented, illustrated with Morgan’s paintings, which also draw on traditional Aboriginal art.
A second collection of Morgan's stories, The Greedy Crocodile (9781921720659) has also been reprinted.
Recommendation: It was good to see this re-issued. It is a useful resource at any level.
Growing Up Asian in Australia
edited by Alice Pung. Black Inc, 2008. ISBN 9781863951913. 288 pp.
This non-fiction anthology is a very rich collection of true stories about the experiences of Asians in Australia – from ABCs who have been here for generations, but who still look Asian, to very recent
Recommendation: Growing Up Asian in Australia is a rich resource and a worthwhile text to study in its own right in Years 10 or 11. It is worth knowing about, even if you have only one copy, as it is a great source of stories to use alongside other texts in a range of units of work on topics like family, migration, difference and diversity, and school life. Use it alongside other collections of life stories such as The Glory Garage: Growing up Lebanese and Muslim in Australia edited by Nadia Jamal and Taghred Chandab, Growing up Muslim in Australia edited by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren and Playground: Listening to stories from country and from inside the heart compiled by Nadia Wheatley.
by Anna Perera. Angus & Robertson, 2008. ISBN 9780732288952. 358 pp.
This is a very significant book that should be widely available to young adult readers. It’s by a first-
This is very moving, especially at those times when Khalid is struggling to hold on to his sanity – for example, after days of being deprived of sleep and subjected endlessly to what seem to be nonsensical questions. His crime? Some of the American interrogators are convinced that he looks as if he’s in his early twenties – they dismiss as nonsense his claim to be fifteen. And he was playing an online computer game with his cousin and some others. Khalid is bewildered by his treatment, but another strength of the book is that he refuses to hate, knowing how destructive hatred can be.
Recommendation: This is an absorbing and affecting read for students in Years 9 to 11. While it is reasonably long, it is not a difficult read, and the reader turns the pages compulsively, anxious to know Khalid’s fate.
The Happiest Refugee
by Anh Do. Allen & Unwin, 2010. ISBN 9781742372389. 232pp.
The Happiest Refugee has had huge success with the general public and is also a great text for use in schools. Hopefully, reading it will give many Australians some perspective about boat people. Anh
Like many Asian migrants, Anh's family valued education highly and he and his brother were sent to St Aloysius, where he was frequently embarrassed by the family's shortage of money. A law degree followed, before he found his vocation as a comedian.
Anh uses humour to tell the story, even at some of the most distressing moments, such as the family's encounter with pirates who threatened to throw his little brother Khoa into the sea. The book is both very funny and very moving, full of great anecdotes that allow the reader to experience his story.
Recommendation: Use this to meet the non-fiction requirement in Year 10. Note that there is a picture book version, The Little Refugee, listed below.
You could link The Happiest Refugee with SBS’s stunning series Go Back to Where You Came From (which can only be touched on, as it is set for HSC from 2015) and the more recent Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta. Note that Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta is M-rated; you would probably only want to use carefully selected extracts.
You could also refer to the autobiographies Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer and Alice Pung's Unpolished Gem, the autobiography of a Cambodian-Australian, although this latter title, too, cannot be treated in depth as it is on the HSC list.
by Gloria Whelan. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009 (2001). ISBN 9781845079772. 176 pp.
Koly is obliged to enter a traditional Indian arranged marriage at thirteen; a few months later she is a
Koly is an appealing character and the story has a romantic ending that will please readers. The book is sensitively written and could lead to some vigorous discussion about the tension between traditional cultural practices and basic human rights.
Recommendation: This is a fairly easy read and could be used as a class set for less academic students in Year 7 and 8, especially for girls.
The Ink Bridge
by Neil Grant. Allen & Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742376691. 288 pp.
This Australian novel is a compelling read. It has a great deal to offer for whole-class study, with a particularly memorable representation of the experience of Omed, a young Hazara. The narrative has
The boys Omed and Hec are linked: both suffer trauma and lose the power of speech as a result; both have lost the ability to trust others but, when thrown together in a soul-destroying candle-making factory in Dandenong, they recognise a kinship. This is essential to the structure of the novel, but telling the boys’ stories as parallel lives does have some problems: Hec has indeed been through a terrible experience but it is scarcely on the same scale as Omed’s pain. Hec’s trauma is a domestic and personal tragedy; Omed suffers even greater family tragedy, but his trauma is shared with his whole nation.
A great strength of the novel is the sense of place. Grant spent time in Afghanistan and the evocation of the landscape and people is superb. The Melbourne setting is just as detailed and precise, with the Westgate Bridge and its tragic history as focus.
A further strength is the disturbing representation of the ugliness of Australian racism, through the voice of a poisonous foreman at the Dandenong factory who rants against those of his workers who ‘don’t even speaka de lingo’ and are as ‘dumb as dogsh-t’. Read his rant on pages 138 and 139 and shudder. If you think this is an overstatement of racist attitudes, just have a look at the bile that is spilt in responses to right-wing blogs such as that of Andrew Bolt. Grant has sadly got this particular Australian voice just right.
Recommendation: This is a great text to use with a mature Year 9 or 10. Parts of it are unforgettable: beautiful, strong and disturbing writing. It forces readers to confront the conditions in Afghanistan and the horror of the refugee experience. It forces them as well to consider Australian responses to these problems. There is much to argue about, including the author’s narrative choices.
This is in a completely different league from other titles available about Afghan refugees. Gleitzman's Boy Overboard and Girl Underground, Gleeson's Mahtab's Story, Evans' Walk in My Shoes and Hawke's Soraya the Storyteller are children’s stories, designed to educate young readers about the refugee experience. The Ink Bridge is a complex and sophisticated young adult novel, flawed in some ways, but deeply disturbing. The crude language may cause problems in some schools.
Interpreter of Maladies
by Jhumpa Lahiri. Flamingo, 2000 (1999). ISBN 9780006551799. 198 pp.
This is a superb collection of short stories. There are nine in all - some set in India, some in America – all related in some way to the experience of Bengali Indians. Many of these stories are about alienation and the longing for home. The stories are beautifully written, with a range of narrative viewpoints.
Recommendation: This is probably best at Year 11 but it is worth considering for a talented Year 10 class. Students will relate to the characters’ experiences, while learning a great deal about how short stories are written.
In the Sea There are Crocodiles: The Story of Enaiatollah Akbari
by Fabio Geda, translated from Italian by Howard Curtis. David Fickling Books, 2012 (2011). ISBN 9781849920988. 224 pp.
Translated from Italian, this is based on a real-life story. When his village in Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban, ten-year-old Akbari was taken across the border into Pakistan by his mother and then abandoned. She had to return to look after the rest of the family but felt that, by smuggling her son into Pakistan, she was giving him at least a chance at life, whereas she felt that, as a Hazara, he had no possibility of survival in their valley in Afghanistan. Akbari, who eventually gained asylum in
Geda tells the story beautifully, beginning with the voice of a ten-year-old child trying to come to terms with the fact that his mother has abandoned him amongst strangers. The boy is remarkably resilient and resourceful but his story is full of heartbreak. At home the boy's Hazara people had been hated by both the Pashtuns and the Taliban. The Pashtuns had forced the boy's father and other Hazaras to drive illegal trucks across the Iranian border; the father had been killed by bandits on such a trip. The boy and the rest of his classmates witnessed the Taliban shoot their teacher, because he had refused to obey a decree to close down the school. At one stage Akbari makes a perilous crossing of the mountains from Iran to Turkey, walking for many days in deep snow and watching many of the group die from hunger and cold. On another occasion he is smuggled in a tray underneath a truck, crammed in with some fifty other asylum seekers, suffocating in the dark. That is one of the most difficult sequences of the story to read. Geda recreates the crush, the stench, the utter darkness, and the panic. The boy was imprisoned under the truck for three whole days.
By the time he is eleven and a half, the boy has managed to get to Iran where he does a man's work on a building site. After four months during which his pay goes to the people smugglers, he is able to save - money that is needed when he is twice repatriated by the police. Herat, the town closest to the Iranian border, 'is full of traffickers waiting for people to be repatriated. You barely have time to get beaten by the police before the traffickers pick you up and take you back.' He has three years in Iran but tires of living in constant fear - not of repatriation but of being incarcerated in the infamous detention centres. It is for that reason that he eventually risks the terrible crossing into Turkey.
Illegal work was plentiful in Iran but it is hard to find in Turkey and the boy joins three other Afghan boys in a nightmarish sea trip to Greece. The boat that the people smugglers supply them with is a dinghy - an inflatable dinghy. They have no navigation equipment. None of the boys has any sailing experience; none of them can swim. Their voyage is another frightening sequence.
Akbari was fortunate to arrive in Greece just as the Greek government was desperately trying to finish the venues for the Olympics. Illegal workers were in great demand and it was possible to make some money. Eventually he smuggles himself into Italy in a container in the hold of a ship.
The novel is quite short, told in brief, understated episodes. It's easy to forget as the journey precedes that the boy is still just thirteen, fourteen or fifteen years old, facing on his own the most terrifying ordeals.
Recommendation: This is an important exploration of the reality of life for asylum seekers. It is an accessible read, appropriate for students in Years 7 and 8, but it also has that timeless quality that means that adults will read it too. It could be used at any level in secondary school, either for whole class sharing or as one of a group of books about the asylum seeker experience.
I Was Only Nineteen
Words by John Schumann, pictures by Craig Smith. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743317235. Hardcover.
This picture book begs for a place in the classroom. Schumann has drawn on the words of the famous Williamson song to tell the story of a young Australian who was sent to Vietnam. Craig Smith's illustrations do more than just illustrate the story. It is from the end papers that we get the context: at the front of the book, we see a child and an old man looking at photographs; at the end of the book, they are marching together in what seems to be an Anzac Day march. Their story continues to be told by the pictures throughout the book: as the old man asks the doctor about his health on the right-hand page, we see the boy waiting for his grandfather in the doctor's waiting room on the left-hand page. Other illustrations are of the grandfather's memories of his time in Vietnam.
There is an epilogue, which is a letter from John Williamson, explaining the significance of the song and how it came to be written.
Recommendation: This is a great way to introduce the history of the Vietnam War to students. The book will work with any class, from Year 7 to 10. It would be a great related text to use with the film, The Sapphires.
This is set in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Jameela lives in a remote rural village in a war-torn country. Her life becomes impossible when her mother dies and her father remarries, with her new stepmother determined to marry her off. Thrown on her own resources, she eventually finds refuge in an orphanage. The novel is based on the life of a real girl and the orphanage actually exists.
Recommendation: Use this with Years 7 and 8, especially girls. Make up a wide reading box about the lives of teenage girls in other countries, including Homeless Girl, Spilled Water, Parvana, Torn Pages and Sold.
by Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781742375700. 48 pp. Hardcover.
This picture book is a great retelling of the story of Aboriginal warrior Jandamarra. Greenwood's very accessible text emphasises the intelligence and resourcefulness of the young man torn between conflicting loyalties. After being chained and imprisoned, Jandamarra decides to fight for his people. His unmatched knowledge of the area and his skills enable him to continually evade pursuit. Eventually, badly wounded, he is shot by an Aboriginal tracker, who cries as he takes aim.
Greenwood's text is beautifully supported by Denton's watercolours. The focus here is on the magnificent Kimberley landscapes. Denton's paintings are presented in various ways. They range from a dramatic two-page spread of cattle being driven along the Lennard River into the huge, rocky ranges to comic-strip style frames, one group of three showing Jandamarra, standing on the edge of a cliff, shooting the hat off a startled trooper below. The variety works very well. The paintings are not just illustrations: they reward close reading.
Recommendation: While most schools will use Jandamarra in Years 7 and 8, it could also be used in Years 9 and 10 alongside the M-rated television documentary, Jandamarra's War (see annotation below). It's a worthwhile addition to the resources available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.
directed by Mitch Torres. 2011. Rated M.
This is a documentary-drama narrated by Ernie Dingo, with a cast of first-time actors from the Bunuba/Gooniyandi nation. It follows the life of Indigenous hero, Jandamarra, from age six until his death at twenty-one at the hands of an Aboriginal tracker, after a long three-year chase in which he evaded the might of the white man, determined to punish him for his resistance. Torres decided to tell the story with documentary footage, including still photographs and contemporary newspaper extracts, supported by dramatic re-enactments. The re-enactments include fictional interviews with Jandamarra himself. The re-enactments were filmed entirely on location on Bunuba country, around Tunnel Creek, Windjana Gorge, Lennard Flats and the Napier Ranges.
Jandamarra's war on the invaders who were destroying his country is one of the great stories of Australian history, but it is unknown to many white Australians.
The documentary is 55 minutes long.
Recommendation: The film has an M rating but could be used in most Year 9 and 10 classes. Use it alongside the picture book, Jandamarra (see annotation above).
by Craig Silvey. Allen & Unwin 2010 (2009). ISBN 9781742372624. 394 pp.
This is a remarkable novel that is working very well in Year 10 classes, usually with those classes
This is a terrific thriller. The narrative opens with thirteen-year-old Charlie being woken in the middle of the night by Jasper Jones, the town's notorious teenage outcast. Jasper is in serious trouble and he comes to Charlie for help. He knows that innocence is of no relevance in a community where it has always been assumed that he is guilty of even the most trifling misdemeanours. After all, he does not have a proper home and he is of mixed race. There is no question that the police and the community as a whole will assume that he is responsible for the death of the daughter of one of their most respected citizens.
Being black and from a dysfunctional family was not good news in country Australia in the 60s. Being Vietnamese was also not a good idea. Charlie's friend, Jeffrey Lu, the cricket fanatic, is a particularly engaging character as he cheerfully battles the prevailing racism and contempt. The friendship between Charlie and Jeffrey and their constant banter are a joy to read. The scene where local hoons trash Mr Lu's beautiful garden is one of the most memorable.
The whole story is narrated by Charlie, heavily burdened by the secret he is concealing and by his growing awareness of the ugly narrowness of his world. The narrative is - unusually - in the present tense, and the reader is kept on tenterhooks, as tense as Charlie himself.
The tension is accompanied by some wonderfully comic scenes, such as Jeffrey's triumph on the cricket field and Charlie's 'heroism' in confronting the town's bogeyman.
Recommendation: Jasper Jones is one of the ‘must buy’ books for any English Department. It makes a great companion text to study in Year 10 with To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Killing Sea
by Richard Lewis. Simon and Schuster Children’s Books, 2006. ISBN 9781416926283. 185 pp.
This American novel is set in Aceh in Indonesia, at the time of the 2004 tsunami. It follows the fate of two teenagers in the aftermath of the disaster: Muslim boy, Ruslan, searching for his missing father, and American girl, Sarah, whose family had been holidaying on a yacht just off the coast when
This is a moving story about the tsunami and its effects, as both young people search for their missing fathers against a background of devastating chaos. It is very much about the essential humanity that we share, despite cultural differences.
Recommendation: This is an excellent text for exposing students to an understanding that people of other cultures are not to be feared as 'the other' and that different cultural practices are simply different, not necessarily better or worse. This is suitable for use as a class set text for Years 7 or 8. Use it as one of a selection of texts about children from different cultures learning to understand each other. It could also be used as a companion text to Allan Baillie's Krakatoa Lighthouse, about the tsunami in 1883.
by Allan Baillie. Puffin, 2009. ISBN 9780143303596. 252 pp.
Set in 1883 during the period of Dutch colonial rule, this is an exciting story of the eruption of the
Baillie’s research is impeccable and he describes the eruption from the first trembles, including the tourist trips taken by the Europeans to view the sights. They scorn the locals’ warning that something huge and dangerous is awakening. Research into the historical events is informed by an understanding of what happened in the tsunami of 2005. The final scenes of the devastating power of the water are unforgettable.
Recommendation: This is an excellent class set choice for Years 7 or 8. It has the excitement of the survival story and the sadness of the loss, as well as great insight into the nature of colonialism and its impact on both the rulers and the oppressed. It could be used alongside The Killing Sea by Richard Lewis, which is about the 2005 tsunami.
Allan Baillie is one of the few Australian writers for young people who has written extensively about Asia. Other Baillie titles for the Year 7 and 8 age group include Little Brother, The China Coin and Treasure Hunters. Other valuable out-of-print titles by Baillie include Songman and Saving Abbie. See as well, Baillie's most recent title, The First Voyage, annotated above. Baillie's short story anthology, A Taste of Cockroach (see annotation below), is a superb source of related texts.
This romance is inspired by the experience of the author’s parents. Wang is third-generation Chinese Australian. Her protagonist, Mirabel or Lei An, is based on her Australian-born mother. At seventeen Mirabel falls in love with a young Chinese soldier, who is briefly posted to Melbourne. JJ has to return to China where the civil war is raging. Mirabel, with her baby daughter, sets off against all warnings to a chaotic Shanghai to find him.
The strength of the novel lies in the vivid depiction of China in the early forties.
Recommendation: Girls in middle secondary will thoroughly enjoy this unusual romance and its courageous protagonist and will acquire a good deal of knowledge about Chinese history at the same time.
The Little Refugee
by Anh Do and Suzanne Do, illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Allen & Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742377832. 32 pp. Hardcover.
This picture book version of the early part of Anh Do’s autobiography The Happiest Refugee is aimed at young readers. It tells the story of life in Vietnam, explains the urgency of leaving Vietnam at the end of the war as Anh’s father and uncle had worked for the Americans, and narrates the escape in an overcrowded, rickety fishing boat. The section of the story that relates the encounter with pirates is scary but not confronting. The account of the family’s early life in Australia includes the humour of Anh’s little brother being dressed in girls’ clothes, because Anh’s mother is too polite to reject the donation from the nuns, and the initial sense of isolation. The story ends with Anh’s election as class captain in Year 5.
Recommendation: This is a useful addition to the selection of texts available on the refugee experience. Anh’s experience reflects that of so many Vietnamese Australians; this picture book is a good introduction to the story of these earlier ‘boat people’. The picture book invites obvious comparison with Li Cunxin’s The Peasant Prince (see annotation below), which presents in picture-book format the early part of Li’s autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer (see below). Both are aimed at young readers, but Cunxin’s text uses words much more sparingly and is much more evocative. It is always productive to have students examine what happens when a story is re-told in a different format; to have here two very similar stories re-told, from adult autobiography to children’s picture book, is very valuable indeed.
by Libby Gleeson. Allen & Unwin, 2008. ISBN 9781741753349. 192 pp.
Based on true stories of Afghan girls now living in Australia, this is the story of a girl whose family is
This is an accessible account that enables young readers to experience the situation through Mahtab’s eyes. The emphasis is on the discomfort and boredom, as much as it is on the fear and loneliness. Worst of all for Mahtab is her ignorance of her father’s fate.
Recommendation: This is an excellent book for readers in the Year 5 to 8 age group.
Mao’s Last Dancer
by Li Cunxin. Penguin 2009, (2003). ISBN 9780670073481. 508 pp.
This autobiography is absolutely wonderful and has been widely used in schools at senior levels, despite its size. This film tie-in edition is even bigger, with additional chapters added to cover the period from the publication of the book, through the years of fame as a writer, to the release of the film. Despite its length, the book is very accessible. The author, born in 1961, grew up in severe poverty in China – one of seven boys in a family whose diet consisted often of nothing but dried
There is no better example of literature from other places – and of other times, because there are many differences between the China of Li Cunxin’s childhood and China today.
The author became a Melbourne stockbroker after he stopped dancing. More recently, he has taken up a position as Artistic Director with the Queensland Ballet.
A simplified and abridged Young Readers’ Edition is also available (9780143301646).
Recommendation: Use the Young Reader’s Edition in Years 7 and 8 and for mixed-ability classes in Years 9 and 10. Use the unabridged original edition for better readers in Years 9 to 12. The picture-book version is The Peasant Prince (annotated below). The film, Mao's Last Dancer, directed by Bruce Beresford, was released in 2009.
Maralinga, the Anangu Story
by Yalata, Oak Valley Community with Christobel Mattingley. Allen & Unwin, 2012 (2009). ISBN
This is a factual illustrated text that is accessible for readers from primary school age up. Well-known children's author Christobel Mattingley worked with the Anangu people to help them tell, in words and pictures, the story of what happened to their community when nuclear bomb tests were carried out on their lands in the 1950s.
Recommendation: This text is suitable for both the Indigenous and the Sustainability cross-curricular perspectives.
Nanberry: Black Brother White
by Jackie French. HarperCollins, 2011. ISBN 9780732290221. 320 pp.
Jackie French has a real talent for producing books that will provoke good class discussion. This one is based very firmly in the history of the early years of the colony and of the first contacts between
I have to admit that I had never heard of Nanberry, although I of course know about Bennelong. It is believed that Nanberry is buried with Bennelong in James Squire’s orchard on the banks of the Parramatta River. Nanberry, aged perhaps 9 or 10, was orphaned by the plague – usually thought to be smallpox – that virtually wiped out the Indigenous people in the immediate area of the first settlement in 1789. He was adopted by Surgeon White and lived between the two cultures. He was frequently used by Governor Phillip as a translator. From the sketchy historical facts about an unusual and interesting life, French has created an engaging character. French uses limited third-person narration, moving the perspective among several characters: Nanberry himself, Maria – the surgeon’s housekeeper, Surgeon White, Rachel – who succeeds Maria as housekeeper and becomes mother to White’s son Andrew – and Andrew himself. A close bond forms between Nanberry and Andrew and they are both ‘black brother white’, each learning and adopting the other’s culture.
The shifting of focus from one character to another rather than remaining with the protagonist is rather unusual in a book for this readership, but it works. In some ways it is the colony itself that is the protagonist.
Recommendation: This works best for Years 8 or 9 and should definitely be considered for whole-class study. It’s a little longer than some of French’s other popular class set books, but it is an accessible read. It is a fascinating picture of the Indigenous people of the area and the impact on their lives of the early settlement. It is also relevant to questions of sustainability: the Indigenous people were healthy, strong and well-fed and knew how to survive in their environment, while the settlers came close to starvation waiting for supply ships from home.
by John Heffernan. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743312483. 197 pp.
This has been published as part of an excellent new series, 'Through My Eyes', stories about children living in conflict zones. Heffernan has written an engaging story about a resourceful and courageous teenage boy living close by Bagram Airfield, the huge American airforce base in Afghanistan. Naveed is the sole supporter of his widowed mother and his irrepressible younger sister, Anoosheh,
Naveed occasionally shares the little food he has with a stray dog. She is a big dog, although starving. His kindness to the dog saves his life when she defends him against the gangs. From that moment on, Naveed and Nasera are inseparable.
While the story is told mainly from Naveed's point of view, there are occasional chapters from the point of view of Jake, an Australian serving as a dog handler with the military. It is the dog, Nasera, that Jake first notices; he is looking for Afghans who can become dog handlers and continue the work of detecting explosives after the Australians and the other westerners leave Afghanistan. While Naveed is much younger than the recruits he was wanting, he and Nasera prove to be a formidable team. The opportunity of a real job and a regular income transforms Naveed's life.
This very readable story gives great insight into the lives of ordinary Afghans living in desperate circumstances.
Recommendation: This is a great novel for class study in Years 7 and 8. Students will relate to Naveed and enjoy the story of his dog, Nasera, and Jake's dog, Stingray. There is plenty of action and danger, as well as some hope for the future.
The novel Shadow, by British novelist Michael Morpurgo, is a good companion piece; it is also about sniffer dogs and Afghan boys.
Never Fall Down
by Patricia McCormick. Harper Collins Publishers, 2013 (2012). ISBN 9780552567350. 224 pp.
This is an intensely disturbing novel, firmly based on a real-life story. It begins with an eleven-year-
Patricia McCormick’s chilling novel is based on the real experiences of Arn Chorn-Pond, who somehow survived when more than two million of his fellow-countrymen were starved or slaughtered. The title is taken from the advice Arn was given - 'never fall down', because, if you do, that will be the end of you.
Arn survives on his wits and through sheer luck. He is protected because he plays the khim in an orchestra performing the new songs for the Khmer Rouge. Often they are forced to play to mask the sounds of killing. Later, he becomes a child soldier, used as a bait to trap the invading Vietnamese. Arn's experiences are vivid: the sounds, the smells and the images stay in the reader's mind long after the book is closed.
Arn Chorn-Pond survived to become a peace activist.
Arn Chorn-Pond and Patricia McCormick discuss the book on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-A_Y1kjJww. There is also an interview with Patricia McCormick at her website http://patriciamccormick.com/never-fall-down/
Recommendation: Never Fall Down is both powerful and disturbing. Some people will argue that young people should be protected from stories as grim as this; others will insist that it essential to know such history, in the hope that it may not be repeated. McCormick is an extremely talented writer for young people and has managed a delicate balancing act between presenting the truth of Arn's experiences but providing readers as well with some sense of hope about human resilience.
Consider using the book as a class novel with Year 9.
Papunya School Book of Country and History
by the staff and students at Papunya School. Allen & Unwin, 2001. ISBN 9781865085258.
This extraordinary book, which is more an illustrated book than a traditional picture book, is compiled of multiple text types – both verbal and visual - contributed by the members of the school
While the bibliographic details list the staff and students of the Papunya School as the communal authors of this project, the contribution of writer Nadia Wheatley and artist Ken Searle as mentors was enormous.
Recommendation: This can be studied at any level. The teacher’s notes on the Allen & Unwin website suggest a unit of work for upper primary, one involving integration of English and HSIE, but there is also a unit of work for Year 11 in The TEXT Book 5 Standard (edited by Helen Sykes, Cambridge University Press), which involves looking at the nature of the text types used, including visual texts presented from a post-colonial perspective. Papunya School Book of Country and History should be included in any unit of work on Indigenous Australia, but is well worth close study in its own right.
by Deborah Ellis. Allen & Unwin, 2002. ISBN 9781865086941. 180 pp.
When her brother dies and her father is imprisoned by the authorities, twelve-year-old Parvana and her mother and sister are unable to leave the family home. Under Taliban law, women and girls are not allowed to leave home without a man, so Parvana, her mother and sisters must stay inside. Living in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime means that all the liberties we take for granted as free people are denied Pavana and her family. When their food runs out, they face starvation, so Parvana decides to try and support her family. She dresses as a boy, to make a living in the marketplace of Kabul, knowing that discovery could mean a beating, imprisonment, torture or death. Her courage in the face of crushing fear and repression is inspiring.
Recommendation: This is the first book in a series. It is followed by Parvana’s Journey (9781865089997), Shauzia (9781741142846) and Parvana's Promise (9781743312988). All have worked well for whole class study.
by Deborah Ellis. Allen & Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781743312988. 201 pp.
This is the fourth book in the Parvana series, a sequel to Parvana, Parvana's Journey and Shauzia. It
The book opens in an American military prison in Afghanistan, where a teenage girl has been detained as a possible terrorist. Despite intense pressure, the girl refuses to answer any questions. As the reader realises that the girl is indeed Parvana, the story moves to flashback - returning, at intervals, to the interrogation room or Parvana's prison cell. We learn that Parvana's mother had established a school for girls just outside the village near the refugee camp that the family ended up in in Parvana's Journey. Older sister Nooria and Parvana's friend Asif were on the staff. While Parvana's mother had had some success in attracting financial donations for the school, there was constant opposition and threatened violence from some of the village men, who disapproved strongly of education for girls and women.
Ellis exposes the enormous difficulties faced by girls and women in Afghanistan today. She pulls no punches with her representation of the American military: they are not in the business of winning hearts and minds; they are actively and rightly feared. The book is both a condemnation of western interference and a celebration of strong and courageous women. It could be argued that Ellis is positioning her readers quite deliberately to share her views of the situation in Afghanistan today, but personally I think she should be thanked for doing so. This book will make many readers angry and a little less likely to dismiss the sufferings of women in Afghanistan because they are ‘the other’, not like us.
Recommendation: This will work especially well with girls in Years 8 - 10, although it would be great if you could get boys to read it too. It is certainly powerful enough to consider for whole-class study. While there is additional meaning and poignancy for those who have read the previous books in the Parvana series, it can stand alone.
The Peasant Prince
by Li Cunxin, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas. Viking, 2007. ISBN 9780670070541.
This is the picture-book version of Mao’s Last Dancer. It is simply and lyrically told, using two main unifying symbols – the kite that the boy and his father are flying on the first double page spread, and the father’s story of the frog who wants to escape from the well.
Recommendation: You can use this with students in Years 4 to 8 who have not read any other version of Li Cunxin’s story, or you could explore with older students the way in which the long and detailed autobiography has been transformed into this visual medium.
Playground: Listening to stories from country and from inside the heart
compiled by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Ken Searle, with Jackie Huggins as consultant. Allen & Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742370972. 97 pages. Hardcover.
This is a large hardcover illustrated text that is a great resource in English classrooms. Nadia has
Recommendation: As well as being a good source of related texts, this is a great inspiration for students to tell their own stories.
by Oliver Phommavanh. Puffin Books, 2012. ISBN 9780143306511. 193 pp.
This is just as funny as Phommavanh's previous novels, Thai-riffic! and Con-nerd, but its main characters are also quite a lot older - Year 10 students at Fairfield High School, making this a more suitable text for secondary students. It accurately reflects the diverse community of Fairfield. The protagonist, Johnny, is of Laotian background and the love of his life, Josie, is Australian-Cambodian. Johnny's dad acts as MC for weddings and birthdays in the area and there is a delightful picture of the culture of the Fairfield region. Johnny's ambition to be a stand-up comic is helped by his English teacher, who encourages several students to take part in a student competition, culminating in finals at the Sydney Opera House.
This is a warm and positive story with a strong basis in supportive family life.
Recommendation: This is a fairly easy read and would be fun to share with students in Years 7 or 8, especially those from a community such as the one represented here. There is still very little young adult literature reflecting the diversity of Australian society.
directed by Phil Noyce. 2002. PG.
In 1931 Molly, Daisy and Grace, aged fourteen, ten and eight, travelled over one thousand five hundred kilometres in an attempt to get home to their family and country after being taken away byto train so called ‘half-caste’ Aborigines as domestic workers and integrate them into white society. The performances of the three girls, none of whom had acted previously, are stunning, almost eclipsing that of Kenneth Branagh, who plays a chilling A. O. Neville, Chief Protector of Aborigines.
The story is true. At the end of the film we meet two of the old women whose childhood experiences are narrated in the film.
Recommendation: This is still one of the best texts to explore Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Cultures and Histories. It can be used at any level, but it is probably best used in Years 7 and 8, because it is so difficult to find Indigenous films with a P or PG rating.
by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. Lothian Books, 2010 (1998). ISBN 9780734411365. 32 pp.
This was controversial when first published, regarded by some as an example of what John Howard called the ‘black armband view of history’. It is an allegory about white settlement, telling the story of the invasion of the continent by the rabbits and the consequent devastation of the native animals. There is minimal written text – often just one simple sentence per page - and striking, surreal visual text. If anyone ever doubts the existence of picture books for older readers, there is no better example than this.
Recommendation: This fits beautifully into any unit of work on Indigenous Australia. It can be studied in its own right as a class text or as part of a wider unit, at any stage from Years 5 to 12. Lothian’s notes suggest that it could also be studied as part of a unit on allegory, with titles like Pilgrim’s Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, Watership Down, Animal Farm and the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman.
The Rainbow Troops
by Andrea Hirata, translated by Angie Kilbane. Vintage Australia, 2013 (first published in Indonesian in 2005; first published in English translation in 2009). ISBN 9781742758589. 304 pp.
The title in Indonesian is Laskar Pelangi. The novel was a record-breaking bestseller in Indonesia
Ikal, the narrator, is one of a small group at Muhammadiyah Elementary, a school so poor that the teachers aren't even paid, surviving at a subsistence level on work that they do outside school hours. The school and its students are despised by the privileged, who attend the PN School, a centre of excellence. Ikal's school has trouble even buying chalk, and survival seems unlikely. Against all the odds, the devout old man, Pak Harfan, and the fifteen-year-old girl, Bu Mus, not only keep the school open but preside over unexpected triumphs: awards for the best arts performance at a festival and then, even more unexpectedly, for academic excellence, after Lintang proves superior to even the brightest students from the wealthy schools.
This is an inspirational story of great charm and occasional sadness. It is also a fascinating insight into a way of life very different from our own.
Recommendation: The Rainbow Troops is written for adults. While it would probably be best as a senior text, it may be suitable for an advanced Year 10 class. Use it as well as a source of related material; many of the most charming scenes are relatively self-contained. The quality of the writing is superb.
A film based on the novel was released in Indonesia in 2008. Laskar Pelangi, directed by Riri Riza, broke all box-office records for Indonesian films. It is rated PG in Australia and is perfectly appropriate for showing to students in Years 7 and 8. The film is available, with English sub-titles, on YouTube. Be warned, however, that it is two hours long and, while delightful, it is not action-packed. Selected scenes may work better - and be just as useful in exposing students to an unfamiliar way of life - than showing the film in its entirety.
by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Di Wu. Phoenix Education, 2011 (1993). ISBN 9781921586248.
This superb picture book has recently been re-issued in paperback, making it accessible for classroom use. Set in Burma, it tells the story of one of the generals coming to the village to bully and threaten the villagers. A brave protester succeeds in making the general look ridiculous. The resolution is very satisfying.
Recommendation: This is an Australian picture book classic, first published in 1993, and re-issued in paperback in 2011. Rebel! can be read by primary school students but it resonates with readers of all ages. Consider using it for close study as a text in its own right. Use it as one of a group of texts for young people about human rights abuses, including Allan Baillie's The China Coin, Ying Chang Compestine's Revolution is not a Dinner Party and Andy Mulligan's Trash.
Burma - now Myanmar - is undergoing huge changes at the moment. The generals no longer have the power that Baillie depicts in this story, but there are still significant human rights issues in that country. No matter what changes occur, however, this picture book will always resonate, with its triumphant representation of the weak standing up against the abuses of the strong.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid. Penguin Books, 2008 (2007). ISBN 9780141029542. 209 pp.
This is a superb text for senior study. It is short enough and easy enough to be accessible to less
Recommendation: I have had very positive reports of the success of this in the classroom. It allows for an intelligent exploration of issues raised by the ‘war on terror’: the simple good/evil, black/white dichotomies are questioned. It is mostly being used in Year 11, and in Victoria it is set for study for Year 12, but it is within the capabilities of a good Year 10 class.
A Requiem for a Beast: a Work of Image, Word and Music
by Matt Ottley. Lothian, 2007. ISBN 9780734407962. Hardcover. 90 pp.
This is an extraordinarily ambitious and impressive work. The publishers call it a graphic novel, but
The core story involves a city boy working with cattle in the outback in a journey of self-discovery. The climax of his personal story is his battle with the huge wild bull, which links to his memories of the myth of the minotaur. His story is linked to a story that haunts him from his father’s past – a story of cowardice that led to the disappearance and death of an Aboriginal boy. The theme of the book seems to be that we can only move on to the future when we have reconciled with the past, and so the boy becomes involved in an old woman’s story of the stolen generations.
Recommendation: This is a very sophisticated and complex work that fascinates many reluctant readers. Use it from Year 9 upwards, especially with boys.
directed by Wayne Blair (2012).
The Sapphires: The Screenplay
by Tony Briggs. Phoenix Education, 2013. ISBN 9781921586712.
Even the best of Australian films have a hard time with the Australian box office, but this lively, upbeat film was enthusiastically embraced by local audiences when it was released in 2012. It is based on the highly successful stage musical that was also written by Tony Briggs, telling the real story of four young Aboriginal women who meet Dave, a feckless Irish musician, who is looking for a new act to revive his career. The girls love music, by which they mean Country and Western; Dave introduces them to Soul Music, so that they can perform in Vietnam for the American Marines.
Part of the appeal of the film are the many musical numbers and the great sense of fun, at times interspersed with real black-and-white television of the war in Vietnam. While the film touches on the futility of the Vietnam War and the reality of racism in Australia in the 1960s, the issues are not pursued in any great depth.
Recommendation: The film is usefully rated as PG, making it available at any level, from Years 7 - 10. The existence of the filmscript is a bonus for class study.
Bran Nue Dae, directed by Rachel Perkins (2009) is also rated PG and would be a useful comparison to The Sapphires. Music, humour and a great sense of vitality are common to both.
Secrets of the Henna Girl
by Sufiya Ahmed. Puffin, 2012. ISBN 9780141339801. 271 pp.
This is a story that will appeal strongly to girls, especially those brought up in a family culture that conflicts with that of the wider society, as is the case for many daughters of migrants. Zeba Khan is the sixteen-year-old daughter of Pakistani migrants to the UK. The Yorkshire hills are well and truly
This is a story about forced marriages. Zeba's father's honour takes precedence over her personal rights; she is facing a nightmarish marriage to a cousin she despises. Because she protests, her parents cut off all communication with her. Only her maternal grandmother is on her side - a strong and independent woman who is nevertheless powerless against the brutal local warlord. Zeba meets another British girl who has already been forced into a miserable marriage. Sehar, who is emotionally fragile, is the most interesting character in the book.
This novel is unashamedly a polemic. It has been written to expose the evil of forced marriages, which the author makes clear need to be distinguished from arranged marriages, which take place with the consent of both bride and groom. The author is also concerned to make a distinction between Islamic beliefs and cultural customs, some of which are actually against Islamic teaching.
Recommendation: This could be a worthwhile class study with a class of girls in Year 7 - 9. Interesting titles as related text - titles written to expose social evils, but in a less overtly polemical fashion than Secrets of the Henna Girl - are Roseanne Hawke's Mountain Wolf and Patricia McCormick's Sold. Both are about the abduction of children for the sex trade; Mountain Wolf is set in Pakistan and Sold in Nepal and India.
by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Christian Birmingham. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2010. ISBN 9780007339600. 288 pp.
This is a moving story about the refugee experience from one of the UK’s best writers for children. Morpurgo was inspired by the story of the Australian sniffer dog that went missing in Afghanistan for 14 months. The dog he writes about was used by the British to detect explosives, but it disappeared after an attack and was presumed to have been killed. The dog turned up months later many hundreds of kilometres away in the caves where Aman, his mother and grandmother are trying to survive.
Aman and his mother make the terrible journey from Afghanistan to try to join relatives in England, including several days locked in the back of a truck with many others without food or water. The story is narrated by 15-year-old Matt, who becomes Aman’s best friend at school and who is horrified when, after six years living in the UK, Aman and his mother are denied refugee status, are arrested and are about to be deported. Matt’s narration is interspersed with Aman’s story, told to Matt’s grandfather in the visiting room at the detention centre.
Recommendation: Morpurgo achieves admirably his purpose of allowing young readers to understand that boys like Aman are just like them, not ‘the other’. This would make a great Year 7 class set. However, you may have to struggle against students’ initial assumption that the book looks a bit young for them. The font is a comfortable size and there are Birmingham’s wonderful illustrations, so that the format seems to be that of a book for younger readers. However, the characters are in their mid-teens and the content is perfect for junior secondary.
John Heffernan's Naveed would make a useful companion piece to Shadow.
by Rosanne Hawke. Allen & Unwin, 2013. ISBN 9781743312469. 206 pp.
This is the first title in an exciting new series from Allen & Unwin called the 'Through My Eyes'
Shahana lives in the area known as the Line of Control, the border that divides Kashmir in two. Her tiny village is on the Neelum River that runs along the border on the Pakistani side. It is an area of ongoing conflict involving not only Indian and Pakistani soldiers but also militia who have their own agenda. Shahana has lost her mother and older brother in a militia attack on the village. Her father has been killed trying to cross the river to sell his goods on the other side. For a year or so Shahana and her young brother Tanveer lived with their grandfather, but he has died the previous winter. Shahana and Tanveer now survive alone in their tiny isolated house on the side of the mountain, some distance from the village. Shahana's grandfather had left her a valuable legacy: the ability to embroider, a skill usually confined to men. She earns enough to buy them food but is aware that the trader, Mr Nadir, is exploiting her; worse, she knows that Mr Nadir's carpet factory depends on the slave labour of young boys from penniless families and that Mr Nadir is plotting to get Tanveer to work for him.
Shahana and Tanveer's lives change when they rescue a fifteen-year-old boy, Zahid, from wild dogs. Zahid comes from the other side of the Line of Control. He is looking for his father who, like so many men, has disappeared, possibly victims of the militia.
While there are several very exciting incidents, including a chilling scene when Mr Nadir tries to auction Shahana as bride to the highest bidder, the strength of the novel is in the characterisation and in the depiction of the lifestyle. Students may well be shocked by a world in which a thirteen-year-old girl is left to raise her nine-year-old brother, where children can be exploited by evil, greedy men like Mr Nadir, where homes have no running water or electricity and where food almost never includes meat. They may well be impressed by Shahana's perseverance, resourcefulness and resilience.
Recommendation: This is strong enough to be used as a class set novel. It will work best with girls in Year 7 - 8. It is a great title to add to the resources available for exploring the cross-curricular perspective, Asia. Add it to a wide reading selection of titles about children in Asia - or, more broadly, children around the world.
Shake a Leg
by Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod. Allen & Unwin, 2010. 9781741758900. 32 pp. Hardcover.
This picture book is a joyous celebration of contemporary Australian Indigenous life. The main
This is a great story about keeping a culture alive. It’s a highly rewarding book for Indigenous Australian children to read, explaining their place in the world, and it’s an important contribution to cultural understanding for non-Indigenous readers. Boori Monty Pryor’s stories about Indigenous culture have been a significant influence on inter-cultural understanding. The decision to team him up with world-renowned children’s book illustrator Jan Ormerod is inspired.
Recommendation: This is a worthwhile text for sharing with students of all ages.
The Spare Room
by Kathryn Lomer. UQP, 2004. ISBN 9780702234774. 180 pp.
This excellent Australian novel is about culture shock: the experience of a young Japanese man sent by his family to Tasmania to learn English. His homestay family are not quite what he was expecting. The tension between Akira and his Australian family is finally resolved when they discover that they have something very important in common: a shared grief. This is an excellent look at the experience of trying to learn to survive in an alien culture, with much humour based on strange Australian customs and the peculiarities of the Australian idiom. Despite being quite short, this is fairly mature in its appeal. It is both moving and funny.
Recommendation: This works as a class set in Year 10. It is especially useful if you have ESL students.
by Sally Grindley. Bloomsbury, 2004. ISBN 9780747571469. 224 pp.
This is a charming story of a young Chinese girl from a poor but happy family, whose life is
How can the word ‘charming’ be used about a story of such adversity? The girl has great courage and resilience and, in even the harshest of conditions, she finds friendship and sometimes even fun. This is a girl who refuses to be a victim. She remembers always her father’s words that ‘The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.’ Her story is narrated in the first person and it is an appealing voice. There is even a happy ending.
Recommendation: This is for Years 5 - 8, especially girls.
by Geraldine McCaughrean. Usborne, 2008 (2007). ISBN 9780746090930. 208 pp.
This is very, very good. British writer, Geraldine McCaughrean, is one of the greats. What is particularly impressive about her is that every book she writes is different. This is short, accessible and very fast-moving. It is told from the point of view of the boy, Rusti, who is a Mongol, one of the
This is a fiercely anti-war book. Rusti has been brought up to honour war, but he is sickened by Tamburlaine’s slaughter of the prisoners. It is also a book that pleads strongly for tolerance and an appreciation of difference. And it is also the story of the Chronicler, the foreigner who is forced to celebrate the deeds of the Mongols: ‘To a Mongol hero there is no dishonour in stealing from the dying, in tormenting the helpless, in killing women and children.’ But it is the story that matters most of all, with a secret about Rusti’s true identity and a stunning climax where the elephants come into their own.
Recommendation: This would make a terrific class set title for Years 7 and 8.
A Taste of Cockroach; Stories from the Wild Side
by Allan Baillie. Penguin Books, 2014 (2005). ISBN 9780143003373. 192 pp.
This terrific collection of Baillie's stories, mostly set in South-East Asia, has just been reprinted. They
There is an excellent range of stories in the collection. One of them is a short story version of the picture book Rebel! (see annotation above), set at the time of the generals in Burma. 'The Pencil' is the story of a young girl intercepted by the Taliban on her way to her forbidden school. My favourite, 'Only Ten', has as its protagonist a boy from Lebanon rather than from one of the countries of Asia, but it is telling the universal story of a refugee child viewed with some suspicion by his new Australian classmates. Baillie's decision to tell the story in the first-person plural, so that we are exposed to the group-think about the strange new arrival, is masterly.
Recommendation: This collection is a great resource for Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia. You will use the stories across Years 7 to 10.
by Oliver Phommavanh. Puffin Books, 2010. ISBN 9780143304852. 191 pp.
Lengy (Albert Lengviriyakul) is of Thai heritage, but it’s not something he boasts about. He’s
Recommendation: This is a high-interest title for readers in the Year 4-7 age group. Boys especially will enjoy the humour. It’s a warm story about family, friendship and community and a celebration of Australian multiculturalism.
by Andy Mulligan. David Fickling, 2010. ISBN 9780385619028. 211 pp.
This impressive novel is a perfect class set text for Years 7 - 9. Set in the Philippines, it is narrated by multiple voices, including those of three young boys who make a meagre living scavenging on a huge tip in Manila. The tip is their home as well as their workplace. One day one of the boys discovers a bag, containing an identity card, a key and some money. The money is very welcome, but it soon becomes clear that the bag is much more valuable than it appears, when hordes of police descend on the tip offering large rewards for its recovery. The bag holds a deadly secret and the boys’ decision to solve the mystery propels them into a very dangerous situation.
This is a breathtaking thriller with wonderfully appealing characters. The surprising ending is astonishingly right.
This will give students insight into the lives of the very poor in third-world countries and the impossibility of social justice in corrupt regimes. It will also give them an appreciation of the possibilities of multiple narration.
The huge tip in Manila is a real place. Have students go online to find photos of Smokey Mountain. You can match the photos with specific scenes from the novel.
Recommendation: I would use this with a Year 8 class, but it will work with bright Year 7s and it would be a satisfying text for those Year 9 students who might not cope with something longer and more difficult. It is a fairly easy read. It begs to be accompanied by some research into the lives of children growing up in intense poverty. It also lends itself to an investigation of the consequences of stereotyping people: these kids have been labelled ‘trash’. This is an outstanding novel, a great resource for Asia and Australia's Engagement with Asia.
The film, Slumdog Millionaire, is rated MA and is clearly not suited to the children who would be reading Trash. However, some selected scenes of children working on similar garbage tips in India might be useful.
by Ambelin Kwaymullina. Walker Books.
The Disappearance of Ember Crow. Book 2. 2013. ISBN 9781921720093. 443 pages.
This is absorbing post-apocalyptic fiction. Set many centuries into the future, after humanity was almost wiped out in an environmental catastrophe, this - like many other titles in the genre - is set in an authoritarian society where those that do not conform are eliminated. In this case, the misfits are teenagers who begin to develop 'abilities'. These abilities are powerful and diverse, covering such things as the ability to create storms, earthquakes or fire, to fly, to communicate telepathically or - in the case of the main character, Ashala Wolf - to sleepwalk. Some teenagers manage to escape. Ashala has become leader of The Tribe, a group of teenagers living in the Firstwood. The Tribe want to end the tyranny
Book 1 is breathtakingly exciting, as Ashala is captured by the enforcers and interrogated by the Machine. There are several totally unexpected and audacious plot twists: nothing is what it seems. The action is confined almost entirely to one location - Detention Centre 3 - and takes place over just a few days. The effect is intense and almost claustrophobic. Book 2 follows the same formula of audacious plot twists but is perhaps not quite as terrifying. In Book 2 the emphasis is on Ashala's friend, Ember Crow, who has disappeared. Ember is certainly not at all what she seems, and the uncovering of her true identity takes us much deeper into the origins of this post-apocalyptic world. The necessary exposition is sometimes a bit too much, but the new characters are fascinating, especially the despicable and scary Terence, Jules with his remarkable 'ability' and the intriguing and powerful Leo.
The author comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region. What sets The Tribe aside from the many other recent young adult post-apocalyptic novels is the author's decision to draw on her heritage. An adaptation of the Dreamtime legend of the rainbow serpent is an important part of the narrative. Ashala seeks advice from her ancestral spirit, the giant Serpent. The Aboriginal understanding of country also underpins the story. Ashala values and feels herself to be part of the Firstwood and its giant tuart trees.
Recommendation: This series has deservedly attracted a devoted fanbase among readers from Years 7 to 10. Both books are great to add to a fantasy or a post-apocalyptic wide reading selection. It is useful too to have something so different from an Indigenous writer.
Ubby’s Underdogs: The Legend of the Phoenix Dragon
by Brenton E. McKenna. Magabala Books, 2011. ISBN 9781921248313. 160 pp.
This is a wonderful contribution to the range of Indigenous texts available for use with secondary students. Firstly, and most importantly, it is the work of an Indigenous Australian. Secondly, it is a richly inventive and beautifully presented text that will engage many of our students, including some who have been reluctant to engage with what has previously been offered to them in the classroom. This is the first volume in a planned trilogy. It is a fantasy graphic novel that is set in Broome and draws on the lives and stories of both the Indigenous peoples of that area and the many newcomers from around the world who have made Broome such a fascinating multicultural community.
Ubby's Underdogs has some links to manga but its style is ultimately its own. Ubby is a tough streetwise Indigenous girl who is the leader of ‘a rag-tag group of misfits who make up the town’s smallest gang’ and who, against all the odds, triumph over the bigger, nastier gangs who constantly challenge them. Ubby’s Underdogs fight their assailants with the help of the entrancing character Sai Fong, a tiny sickly little girl recently arrived from China who discovers that she has awesome powers.
This is an action movie with terrific special effects presented in comic-strip format and with authentic Australian voices, including Aboriginal English.
The sequel, Heroes Beginnings (9781922142139) has now been published.
Recommendation: Use this anywhere from Year 7 - 10, especially with those students who love graphic novels.
Under the Persimmon Tree
by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Walker Books, 2006. ISBN 9780744555974. 297 pp.
This American young adult novel tells the parallel stories of a girl living in a remote rural area of Afghanistan and a recently married American woman living in Pakistan. Najmah and her family live
This novel will broaden readers’ understanding of Afghan culture and religion. American Elaine has chosen to become a Muslim, and there is an explicit discussion of her reasons for doing so, including her discussions with an Imam about Islam as ‘the cradle of modern mathematics and astronomy’. Najmah is interesting because she rejects an offer of a comfortable life in the States because of her love for her country and her longing to be able to reclaim the farm that has been in her family for generations. It is too easy for Westerners to assume that everyone from everywhere else aspires to share our lifestyle; in fact, few refugees choose to leave home.
Recommendation: This is a great read for girls in Years 7 - 9.
Walking the Boundaries
by Jackie French. Angus & Robertson, 2006 (1993). ISBN 9780207200434. 208 pp.
This is the story of a materialistic white city boy to whom land is significant only in financial terms. His great-grandfather is prepared to give the boy a large block of untouched bush, but only if he first walks the boundaries of the property. The boy, thinking of what the money will buy him, agrees. As
Recommendation: This is a proven success as a class set text in Year 7 and raises significant issues about the relationship with and treatment of the land, contrasting the white attitude to possession with the Indigenous understanding of country.
Ziba Came on a Boat
by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen. Penguin Viking, 2007. ISBN 9780143505518. 32 pp.
This picture book is a beautifully told story of a little Afghan girl taking the perilous journey that so many others have taken in the hope of finding freedom. The story moves from the frail fishing boat to
Sadly, people like Ziba and her mother are still being demonised in this country. That is only possible if they are thought of as being alien and different – ‘the other’. This succeeds in enabling the reader to see the world through Ziba’s eyes.
Recommendation: Use this as a related text in units of work about the migrant experience or about refugees.