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

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