Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Onion Tears by Diana Kidd

I have now read quite a few of Diana Kidd's novels and it is a shame she is no longer around to continue sharing cultural insights in order to break down stereotypes which often dehumanise refugees. This book is a beautiful vehicle for teaching children values-based education in relation to asylum seekers and refugees. Although it was written some twenty-four years ago, it is still extremely relevant to the situation in Australia today. The thoughts of a young Vietnamese girl Nam-Huong,  who has been through a trauma that has left her unable to speak, are eloquently conveyed to the reader through the first person narration. Nam lives with "Aunty" and helps out in the family restaurant (along with fellow refugee Chu Minh) when she is not attending school. Insight into what she suffered and her loneliness and disconnectedness are conveyed through a number of letters which Nam writes to the "Dear little yellow canary," "Dear Mr Buffalo" and other animals with who she had a connection in her past life. At school she is teased because of her name, the food she brings to eat and the fact she doesn't verbalise what she is feeling. The students have no understanding of her grief for her missing family and her beloved Grandpa whose fate is revealed only at the end of the story.  It is only her understanding teacher, Miss Lily, who eventually helps Nam to start enjoying her new life and to smile again.Whilst some younger readers will be unable to relate to the atrocities Nam endured in Vietnam and during the boat trip, they will understand how difficult it can be to start life in a new country and how being dismissed, teased and excluded can affect a person's well being. Onion Tears was shortlisted in the 1990 Children's Book of the Year awards and winner of the 1990 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Children's Literature.  It was inspired by the stories of Southeast Asian students at Richmond Girls High School. I have reviewed a few books by this author on this blog. The detailed ink illustrations by Dee Huxley which adorn all the pages add greatly to the pathos of Nam's story.

The soldiers took Dad away..Nam and little yellow canary

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Tartan Kangaroo by Tom Lewis and Tony Oliver

Australia meets Scotland, this book is basically an illustrated poem, written in ballad form. Mind you, the illustrations by Tony Oliver, are absolutely amazing, especially the massive tartan, bagpipe-playing kangaroo. This kangaroo is an environmental disaster of earthquake proportions who rips up gum trees and flings them around awakening the townsfolk in the middle of the night with his merry bagpipe tunes. Well, the time happens when there's bound to be a few complaints. Then, there's the bright idea of using the eccentric roo to attract tourists. What happens in the end is not what you might expect!

Say Cheese by Mary Blakeslee

This is definitely a girly book and focuses on the issues of fitting into a new school, friendships and peer pressure. Fifteen year old Granada (Granny) has just returned to Canada to attend Fineacre High after many years of studying at an exclusive school in Switzerland. She initially has trouble settling in, and is faced with further trouble when she sets her sights on Steve Williams, the editor of the school newspaper Fi High Speaker, and who is under the constant watch of his girlfriend of three years, Lonnie Kaye Borgnine. Granny is so infatuated with Steve that she lies about her photography skills to gain a place on the newspaper. There are a few fiascos to start off with, but after spending many hours studying the art of photography with her father who is  renown for his accomplished photojournalism, she starts to gain Steve's appreciation and attention. Gary, the guy in charge of the photography section, is not so easily impressed, and like Kaye, it seems he is out to make her life miserable. Thank goodness for her new friend Maureen who is there to offer advice, and support her through the tricky situations. On the home front, Granny is trying to develop a relationship with her new step mother Judy and help out with the energetic five year old twins Trixie and Trina. Judy firmly believes they are destined to be great child models.