The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon

Soon Subhi, the people out there will remember us. Soon they’ll see that living in here isn’t living at all. We just need to show them who we are, that we’re people, and then they’ll remember. This time, they won’t forget.

Subhi was born in a refugee camp, and has never known freedom. His mother and sister remember life before, and the dangerous journey to get to Australia, but now even his mother has stopped hoping, stopped telling the stories of home, and teaching Subhi their language. Subhi still believes in goodness, and lives with the hope that one day his father will come and join them and that they will live outside of the camp.

Jimmie lives close to the camp, with her father and brother, but since the death of her mother the family is barely functioning. Jimmie rarely goes to school because Dad works shifts and her brother is too busy to take her. She wonders about the nearby camp and whether its inhabitants have things she doesn’t. When she finds a way in, it is Subhi that she meets.

The Bone Sparrow is a moving story of friendship and survival. Both children are scarred by what is happening in their own lives, but each is able to offer the other hope.

But, though Jimmie’s story is part of the book, it is Subhi’s life which will shock young readers, offering a glimpse of life in detention camps and, particularly, of the children who live in them. The story is confronting, with Subhi and fellow inmates being poorly treated – physically and emotionally. It is this confronting nature that makes the story so important, giving an empathetic voice to a problem happening here in Australia and abroad – as the book’s afterword claims, “an all too true reality.”

Beautifully told, The Bone Sparrow will bring tears, and a desire to change things for kids like Subhi.

The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon
Lothian, 2016
ISBN 9780734417138

The Truth About Peacock Blue, by Rosanne Hawke

9781743319949.jpgMrs Abdul and the officer stopped in front of me and I stood in respect. She had been angry with me constantly, regularly beat me, but she had never spat words at me like she did then, as if I was a bazaar dog with rabies.
‘This is the girl, officer, who blasphemed the Holy Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him.’
Rabi gave a cry. I couldn’t say a word; I was too shocked.

Aster was named after a girl who had to fight against the persecution of her minority faith. Aster, too, belongs to a to a minority. She is a Christian growing up in Pakistan. When she is given the opportunity for a high school education she plans to study hard to make a difference for herself and for her grieving parents. But not everybody at the school is welcoming, and one teacher dislikes her intensely – because of her faith. Aster tries to keep her head low and study hard to please the teacher, but a mistake in an exam has devastating consequences, when she is accused of blashpemy. Marched out of school by police and thrown in prison, Aster’s predicament escalates rapidly.

The Truth About Peacock Blue is a gripping tale of life for one girl in Pakistan, giving an insight into the predicaments of minority faith groups and indviduals, as well as the rights of women. In prison, Aster meets other women who have been wrongly accused and are harshly treated, left in limbo for lengthy periods of time. Communication with her Australian-based cousin, who runs a blog and starts a petition, allows other perspectives, incuding those of commenters on Maryam’s blog.

Aster’s case is fictional, but mention is made of real life cases including those of Asia Bibi and Malala. As well as being an absorbing story, The Truth About Peacock Blue will also aid in understanding such situations, which can seem far removed from contemporary Australian life.

An important look at social justice and freedom.

The Truth About Peacock Blue, by Rosanne Hawke
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743319949

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick

My name is Jesse James Jones. Call me Jesse. Don’t call me triple j. I’m not a radio station, I’m an eleven-year-old boy.
Trevor looks down on me with understanding eyes. It’s pretty tough going through life with a name that people make fun of. ‘ven though I walk through the valley of the shadow -‘
‘Mum! Jesse’s talking to himself again!’ yells my sister Beth, from the next room.
‘Jesse.’ Mum’s voice is reproachful, as though I’ve been caught doing something sinful.

Fitting in to a new school is rarely easy, and when there’s a school bully with you firmly in his sights, it’s definitely going to be difficult. Lucky for Jesse there’s also a girl called Kate who has curly black hair and a beautiful smile. While Jesse’s helping her to save the whales, he’s also trying to save starving orphans in Africa, and his family from financial ruin.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain is a funny story about standing up for beliefs, friendship and fitting in. Told from the first point viewpoint of Jesse, interspersed with a third person look at Hunter’s perspective, the reader is thus able to see the complexities of the boys’ interaction as well as what is happening in each boy’s life. This adds a depth which a single viewpoint would lack.

Young readers will enjoy the silliness of scenes including Jesse’s interaction with a poster of Jesus (who he calls Trevor to appease his atheist parents) and Hunter’s ability to find sponsorship for the Save the Whales cause , whilst appreciating the poignancy of the tougher moments of the story.

Herrick is a powerful storyteller. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain will not disappoint.


Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250163

You can read an interview with Steven Herrick here.

This book is available from good bookstores or online.