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
www.clairesaxby.com

Circle, by Jeannie Baker

In a place where mud and sand become sea…
a godwit with white wing patches
flies up with his flock.
The moment is right
for the long journey north.

A godwit leaves a sandy shore, knowing its is time to journey north. Joining his flock, it flies day and night until he knows it is time to stop for food and rest. Later, replenished, the godwit continues his journey until the flock reach their northern home and he goes alone to his remembered place. Attracting a mate, the pair breed and produce chicks. Eventually, though he knows it is time to rejoin the flock, feed and begin the long flight south to return to the beach he started from.

Circle is a beautiful picture book exploring through text and amazing art the migration of the godwits, through the perspective of a single bird. Readers are given a wonderful insight into the challenges faced on the long journey, as well as through the breeding season. The story is also bookended by hints of the story of a boy who witnesses the departure and return of the bird. AT he front of the book, preceding the title page,w e see the boy bedbound, wishing he could fly. In the opening spreads he watches the birds from a wheelchair,pushed to the edge of the beach. In the closing scene, as the godwits return, he is again on the beach, with the aid of a pair of crutches which are discarded as he tries to stop his dog chasing the birds.

With the amazing collage artwork for which Baker is known and loves, gentle text and so much detail to explore and discuss, Circle will delight young readers, teachers and adult readers.

Circle, by Jeannie Baker
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781406338010

Teresa: A New Australian, by Deborah Abela

’This is it. The beginning of our new lives. Ready?
Teresa and her mama nodded. ‘Ready.’
They stepped into the cheers and music and beneath flying streamers and confetti. All around them were people in tears, hugging and laughing.
People made sure they stood together to take their first steps onto Australian soil. When they did, he wiped his sleeve across his eyes. Mama kissed his cheek. ‘You old softie.’

War rages across Europe, and Teresa and her family endure tough times in their homeland, Malta. There are bombing raids every day, and her father is away fighting alongside the allies. Even when peace finally comes, life is difficult, so Teresa’s family make a difficult decision – they will leave Malta and start a new life in Australia.

In Australia life is safer, and Teresa’s parents find jobs, but there are still many obstacles to overcome, including getting used to Australian ways. Not everyone is welcoming of new Australians, but Teresa is determined to succeed in this strange new land.

Teresa: A New Australian is wonderful new historical fiction, exploring the life of one new migrant in the years following World War 11. Teresa is a feisty, loyal girl who faces each new challenge head on. Readers will enjoy getting to know her and at the same time will become familiar with aspects of Australia’s history they may not know.

Teresa is an outstanding addition to the New Australian series.

Teresa , by Deborah Abela
Omnibus, an imprint of Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742990941