May Tang: A New Australian by Katrina Beikoff

If I were a bird, I’d want to be a bird in a cage. Birds that sing with happiness are in cages. They are looked after, they are loved and they belong to a family. I think that’s the best life for a bird.

Eleven-year-old May Tang lives with her extended family in Shanghai. Her brother is in Australia learning English, but otherwise she’s happy with her family and her friends and their lives. But it is 1989 and change is coming to China, whether she realises it or not. Almost before she can imagine it, her family is split, and she and her mother are travelling to Australia, with no plans to return. May is not happy, despite assurances from her family that this is a good outcome for them all. Her arrival in Sydney is confronting, particularly when her beloved brother greets and then leaves them. May realises that no matter how she feels, this is reality and her mother needs her help. Slowly, May adjusts to this very foreign new world.

Australia’s migrant story is an ongoing one, with new arrivals every day. There are many reasons that families come here, making great sacrifices to do so. May Tang has been relatively protected from the political atmosphere in China, but events in Tianenmen Square in 1989 herald a change for her. This is a story of family, of growing up, of finding ways to survive and thrive when your world is turned upside down. Mei Li, her grandfather’s protected and loved bird in a cage, sings a beautiful song. May discovers that there is life beyond the safety of her family home and that there are many songs to be sung in freedom. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

May Tang: A New Australian, Katrina Beikoff

Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990743

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson

Kai sighed. The dragon haven had been his home since he was a dragonling, yet he showed no pleasure in returning.

“Gu Hong selected this place to be the home of the dragons,” he said. “She chose well. It is not so high that it is wintry throughout the year round. And no creatures can scale the sheer cliffs – not a goat, not a rabbit and, more importantly, not a human.”

At last Tao and Kai have arrived at the Dragon Haven. Now Kai can resume his position as leader, and Tao can take on the role of Dragonkeeper. But there is no big welcome, and Tao wonders if he and Kai will be made to leave, and once again face the murderous warlord, Jilong.

Although their welcome is luke-warm, the pair do their best to fit in, and even have moments of something nearing harmony with the dragon cluster. But when Jilong finds out where they are, it seems their peace will be shattered. Not only does Tao question his own role at the haven, but also whether dragons will ever be able to live peacefully anywhere in the world.

The sixth and final title in the Dragonkeeper series, Bronze Bird Tower is fabulous fantasy for readers of all ages. Tao and his friends are endearing, and the other dragons, with their different personalities, make for an absorbing cast. The twists and turns as the dragons find a way forward, and Tao and Kai seek to establish their roles, are both exciting and satisfying.


Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2017



Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim

Ma is gone. I fought back tears, gripping the handle of the wheelbarrow tighter so her body wouldn’t tip out too soon. I was taking her to the river to join the other villagers who had passed. I didn’t dare look around – what if one of those bodies had surfaced, caught on a rock instead of being swept away by the current after the last rains? I could almost picture the head of some weeks-dead villager bobbing up beside me, all sunken cheeks and lifeless eyes behind paper-thin lids.

Having watched his parents die in a famine during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Ming is left orphaned. Sharing a house with other village orphans, he must work hard to grow crops for his village and for the Communist government, with little time for himself. When the Party brings a group of city boys to work in the village, Ming forms an unlikely friend with Li, a charming, likeable city boy. Ming, taught to swim by his father, now teaches Li to swim and as they exchange their stories and their dreams they also start to wonder if there is a chance for freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is a tale of friendship set in 1960s China. Told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, the story explores both the effects of living under the fledgling regime, and the efforts of the freedom swimmers, people who attempted to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong, where they would find freedom.

Based on the experiences of author Wai Chim’s father, who made the freedom swim in 1973, Freedom Swimmer is a moving story.

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113414

Yong, by Janeen Brian

I never wanted to come.
And now I’m probably going to die. Before this trip I had never been out of my village in Guangdong. Never walked past the banks of the rice fields or smelled the air beyond the dark hills.
Yet, here I am, aged thirteen, in a sailing ship that’s being hurled about in seas as tall as mountains, heading for some strange shore across the other side of the world.

Yong does not want to go to Australia. He wants to stay home in his village and look after his younger siblings and his grandmother. But he is the firstborn son, and has no choice: his father insists that he accompany him to the goldfields in Ballarat. There they are to make their fortune, to send money home for their family, and eventually return.

The trip by ship to Australia is long and tedious, and, when storms hit, dangerous too. Yong and his father are lucky to escape with their lives, but find themselves not in Victoria, but South Australia, and so begin another long journey – on foot. With other men from their village and an untrustworthy guide it seems they might never arrive.

Yong is a moving historical fiction tale set in 1850s Australia against the backdrop of the goldrush. Whilst gold is the goal for Yong and his father, however, the focus of the story is on unearthing the culture and type of people who came to Australia in search of gold, specifically the Chinese. Through the eyes of Yong we see his concerns about leaving behind his birth country and family, his bewilderment at his new country, and how his culture affects his experiences.

An engaging story, Yong is ideal for private reading and for schools and libraries.

Yong, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925126297

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly

‘Now, I know what you are thinking,’ Hu Tang paused. ‘You are thinking that there are hundreds of zoos, why does the world need another one? Indeed, what can China do with a zoo that has not already been done before? Ladies and gentlemen…this is what we can do.’
At that moment, the speeding bullet train burst out into brilliant sunshine and CJ found herself staring at an awesome sight.

In spite of its massive population and a booming economy, China lags behind its adversary, the United States of America, in a key way: it is not the cultural ruler of the planet. China needs something to compete with the power of Disneyland, the dreamfilled destination which epitomises commercialisation and is known the world over. When it is discovered that the most famous mythical creature of them all is not in fact a myth, and is hiding deep within China, it seems that the answer is clear: a zoo unlike any other, where dragons fly free. People will come from everywhere to see them, and will leave knowing that China really is the world ruler.

CJ Cameron doesn’t know any of this. All she knows is that the Chinese government has requested that she visit its new zoo on behalf of the National Geographic. With her brother Hamish and a party of other influential journalists, she is taken to a secret destination, little knowing what it is she will see there. Soon, though, her amazement at the realisation that the zoo houses dragons, is replaced with horror as she realises the dragons are turning rogue, and that zoo officials will do anything to ensure she doesn’t escape to spread the word of this glitch in the zoo’s operations.

The Great Zoo of China is a fast-moving, often gruesome, action thriller of the kind Matthew Reilly fans have come to expect.  Moving almost as quickly as the bullet rains which appear in parts of the novel, the story unfolds over a very short space of time, but manages to include many deaths and lots of destruction, along with a feisty main character who, with some help, tackles dragons and human foe with ingenuity. If the plot sounds familiar, Reilly admits that it was inspired by his love of the novel Jurassic Park and, although he has worked to make it different, by setting it in China and by using dragons instead of dinosaurs, there are similarities which make his homage obvious. This doesn’t make the book less likely to appeal to lovers of Reilly’s work, or of action novels in general, who will enjoy the premise and the plot.


The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743517017

Available from good bookstores and online.


Shadow Sister, by Carole Wilkinson

They retraced their steps, but before they had gone more than a few chang, there was a disturbance in the forest. It was the same sound that they had heard near Shenchi village – branches breaking, undergrowth being flattened, the thud of large feet. There was also an unholy screech that made Tao’s insides turn to water. Below them, the nomads had also heard the noise and were picking up their weapons. Whatever was causing this disturbance was getting closer. Tao’s instinct was to run, but Kai stopped him.

Since he left the monastery to travel with Kai, Tao has tried hard to learn the skills of the dragonkeeper, but it is not easy. He has no-one to teach him what to do, and he is yet to discover his special qi power. His journey with Kai is long and complex – he has to trust Kai that they are heading in the right direction. There are also many perils – a gang of violent nomads who will stop at nothing to get what they want, a ferocious seven-headed snake-beast, and a ghost who wants to freeze Tao’s blood.

Shadow Sister is the fifth book in the stunning Dragonkeeper series, and maintains the quality of its predecessors. Wilkinson’s characters are endearing – or frightful, in the case of enemies including Fo Tu Deng and Filong – and the settings well-painted. The action is finely paced, keeping the reader engrossed from beginning to end.

As with other books in the series, Shadow Sister could be read alone, but readers who have read the other titles will be glad they have, and those who haven’t will find themselves drawn to seek them out.

Just brilliant.


Shadow Sister , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2014
ISBN 9781922179579

Available from good bookstores or online.

Blood Brothers, by Carole Wilkinson

Tao’s eyes were wide. A terrified whimper escaped from his gaping mouth. Standing in front of him was a dragon.
The creature observed the boy with unblinking eyes, and took a step towards him. Convinced that the dragon was about to attack, Tao turned to run, hoping he could climb out a window. Fear gave him speed, but the dragon was faster.

Hundreds of years after the events of the third Dragonkeeper book, readers have a new chance to enter the wonderful world of dragons and their keepers. This time the hero is Tao, a descendant of Ping, the heroine of the first three books. Tao is a novice in a Buddhist monastery, determined to live a good and peaceful life to earn karma for his twin brother. But his peace is interrupted when he is visited by Kai – at 465 a teenager in dragon terms. He is on a quest to find his new dragonkeeper, and is sure Tao is that person, in spite of Tao’s reluctance.

Together boy and dragon journey through troubled times, each helping and learning from the other. Tao realises that Kai has secrets and that only he can help him – but he, too, can be helped to meet his true destiny.

Blood Brothers is the fourth in the Dragonkeeper series and, rather than picking up where the previous one left off, has deliberately been placed in a new time period, allowing a new cast of characters and a new historical backdrop. Although Kai, who was centre stage for the second and third books, is still very much a focus, he is a different Kai, no longer an enthusiastic hatchling looking for his kind, but a troubled teen trying to find his way in the world and with a past he has trouble coming to terms with.

What is common to the earlier books is the qualitty of the writing, with a beautifully woven story, action and adventure, and characters readers will come to love or loathe and want to hear more about. The new offering does stand alone but, with the first three books rereleasd to coincide with its publication, readers will enjoy reading (or rereading) the whole series.


Blood Brothers (Dragonkeeper)

Blood Brothers (Dragonkeeper), by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2012
ISBN 9781742031897

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Garden of the Purple Dragon, by Carole Wilkinson

Ping ran back through the pine trees, her heart pounding. Kai wasn’t sitting at the mouth of the cave where she’d left him. He looked around, but the fog was like a blindfold. She called his name and ran into the cave. The little dragon was digging up the bed, scattering pine needles everywhere. Ping rushed to him…
“We’re going to find somewhere else to live,” she said, trying to sound calm.

Ping thinks she has found a safe hiding spot to bring up Kai, the baby dragon whose care has been entrusted to her. But her peace is disturbed when she realises someone has found her. She must do everything she can to protect Kai, the last dragon, but who can she trust?

Garden of the Purple Dragon is the second title in the Dragonkeeper series, picking up soon after the first left off. Ping was once a slave girl who didn’t even know her own name, until she discovered that she could communicate with dragons and that she was, in fact, heir to the position of Imperial Dragonkeeper. Now she is on the run with baby Kai, the last of the Imperial dragons, keeping him safe from those who would use him for evil – even if it kills him.

First published in 2005, Garden of the Purple Dragon has been republished, along with other books in the series, with stunning new covers and the same wonderful tale which readers will love to revisit or to discover for the first time. And, of course, on finishing it, they’ll be looking for number three in the series to see what happens next.

Garden of the Purple Dragon (Dragonkeeper)

Garden of the Purple Dragon , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, first published 2005, this edition 2012
ISBN 9781742032467

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.