Tag Archives: Racism

The Enigma Game – Elizabeth Wein

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Allen & Unwin

August 2020

ISBN: 9781526601650

Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Elizabeth Wein continues her stellar historical novel series with another look at a fascinating aspect of World War II, this time weaving a wonderful tale around the famous Enigma code.

This exciting story revolves around three very diverse main characters: Louisa, orphan of a mixed marriage (English and Jamaican) who is habitually judged unfairly due to her race and culture, despite the fact that she has raised in a very ‘English’ manner; also subject to prejudice is Ellen McEwan, a Traveller, who is working as a driver for the RAF at the nearby airfield and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, young pilot in the locally stationed squadron.

Louisa’s loss of both her parents in rapid succession means she needs to find work – not easy for a girl of colour – but is hired by the owner of a pub in Windyedge, Scotland, to be carer for an elderly aunt, herself a colourful and feisty character of German descent. It is in the small village, most notable for the airfield close by, that Louisa encounters Jamie and Ellen, who have known each other for years.

All three are desperate to fight back against the enemy and when the trio find themselves in possession of the mysterious Enigma code machine by means of an even more mysterious German flier, they use the machine to the advantage of Jamie’s squadron to inflict as much damage as possible on the relentless German assault by air.

It’s a deadly and dangerous course for the young people but they are all made of stern stuff and are determined to wreak havoc on the despised Germans.

The interaction between all the characters, both primary and secondary, is fascinating and eminently engaging and for young readers this is a superb way to ‘learn history’ that might otherwise be quite dull while also reflecting on attitudes and intolerances, sadly still all too prevalent today.

This was a gripping read which I thoroughly enjoyed and I truly warmed to these young characters, each so very different yet united in their unwavering determination and strength of character.

I highly recommend it for young readers from around upper primary onwards and would be certainly advocating it for a ‘read around your topic’ program.

Top End Girl – Miranda Tapsell

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Hachette Australia

APR 28, 2020 | 9780733642432 | RRP $32.99

A deadly memoir about being bold, black and brave in work, life and love

As Reconciliation Week closes for another year how timely is it that I can share this impressive and inspirational memoir from the pint-sized dynamo Miranda Tapsell.

Many will know her from The Sapphires and more still from the recent movie which she co-wrote and starred in, Top End Wedding.

This memoir recounts her growing up in the Territory mostly focusing on Darwin, her determination to make it as a creative in such a tough industry and her passionate advocacy for her people, culture and country. Readers will follow Miranda’s journey from stage-struck Larrakia Tiwi kid to lauded actress and writer with delight while, at the same time, applauding her resilience, tenacity and self-belief. What a fabulous example to other young Indigenous kids aspiring to follow their own dreams!

It’s a testament to the readability of this book that I read it over just three (week) nights. Miranda infuses her writing with the same vivacity and joy she demonstrates on-screen along with much humour and a very down-to-earth attitude. She doesn’t hold back on her views about the ongoing struggle of our First Australian peoples and I would encourage anyone who wants to know more about both the past and the current state of play in this regard to pick this up and read it, reflect and, hopefully, act.

Sadly it is not just in our country that the racial issue continues to raise its ugly head as this week’s news unfortunately shows. It would seem that though the years roll on there are still so many who choose to remain ignorant and inhuman simply from their innate prejudices.

Miranda has added another string to her creative bow with this debut book. I for one hope that she will continue to produce more writing particularly with reference to opening the minds and hearts of fellow Australians.

I hardly need to say I recommend this highly for any reader from teen upwards – an important and deadly addition to any reading list.

The Middle of Nowhere [Usborne Modern Classics] – Geraldine McCaughrean

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nowhere

Harper Collins

October 2018

ISBN: 9781409570516

ISBN 10: 1409570517

Imprint: Usborne – GB

List Price: 14.99 AUD

Rarely have I read a book which so captures the Australian landscape, isolation and the deep abiding racism of times gone past which has been written by a non-Australian but this is superb. Taut, thrilling and anxiety-making the narrative follows the friendship of young Comity, daughter of the district telegrapher and Fred, Aboriginal yard boy, and their persecution by a sadistic and depraved assistant to the telegraph station. After Comity’s mother dies from snake bite, Comity is left to fend for herself, keep intrusive relatives at bay via long distance and try to manage house and the duties of the station as her father withdraws deeper and deeper into depression.

Comity has grown up with Fred whom she considers her best friend. He teaches her about the country, the spirits and survival while she teaches him reading and ‘whitefella’ ways. When cruel assistant Quartz Hogg arrives he quickly sums up the situation with Comity’s ineffectual father and sets about usurping his authority, turning his employees against him, setting up an illegal still and worst of all victimising Fred.

When all pretence of compliance breaks down between Hogg and his supervisor, Comity’s father is locked in the despatch room while his assistant and the other hands begin a drunken spree which ends in Fred being hunted like an animal into the wilderness. Comity is desperate to save him and has to rely on the ‘ghans, who are also despised by the white people, to help  both of them.

This is not a novel for sensitive young readers but it is an insightful and beautifully written exploration of grief, loneliness, self-reliance, courage as well as the cruelty and prejudices of some humans.

I would recommend it for astute readers from around 12 years upwards – I really enjoyed it very much.

 

Crossing Ebenezer Creek – Tonya Bolden

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ebenezer

Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 01-08-2018
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781681196992
Imprint: Bloomsbury YA
RRP $14.99

 

The wonderful thing about well-written, well-researched historical fiction is that you don’t just learn new information but that you can immerse yourself in the period and gain a far greater understanding than dry textbooks will offer. I openly admit that I know very little about the American Civil War beyond a little reading and several movies (after all, who hasn’t watched Gone With the Wind at least a dozen times?).

Hence I had no idea about the freed slaves who were part of Sherman’s march across Georgia – nor indeed the dreadful ending so many of them had. Naturally I knew that not all the Yankees were accepting of the freed slaves but to read of such vile wickedness is quite confronting.

Mariah and her young brother Zeke are freed from their heinous slavery and are two of the hundreds in the march. Caleb, a free-born man, is an indispensable assistant to the kind and compassionate Captain Galloway and takes on the role of protector, and indeed would be family to them both.

Along the often harsh march the ex-slaves share their various dreadful histories revealing much of a truly horrendous endurance.  But it is not all history as many perish at the hands of cruel supposed liberators even in the midst of their hopes and dreams of freedom.

The terrible crime at Ebenezer Creek needs to be told and told it is in the context of real human anguish and pain. Bolden has done a remarkable job of bringing this to the attention of young readers with the dignity and empathy that its victims deserve.

The frightening aspect is that so little has changed in many ways – either in the USA or here with our own First Australians – who are often still victimised and persecuted simply on the basis of race. Hopefully, there are enough of us who are prepared to continue to stand up to this schism in our society and eventually eradicate the evil forever.

Highly recommended for discerning readers from around 12 years upwards.

 

The Adventures of Catvinkle – Elliot Perlman

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catvinkle

Penguin Random House

9780143786368

October 1, 2018

Puffin

RRP $19.99

 

Well regarded author of adult books Elliot Perlman has ably proven that he can turn his hand just as easily to writing for children with this first book for younger readers. It is delightfully whimsical and carries a literary flavour of its Amsterdam setting within its text with an enviable ease (very reminiscent of Annie M. G. Schmidt’s beautiful classics).

 

Catvinkle is a much pampered only pet of a charming barber in Amsterdam. She is exceedingly beautiful and certainly talented in some ways but also very definitely selfish and rather casual with the truth. When her owner Mr Sabatini brings home a rather forlorn and neglected Dalmation named Ula, Catvinkle is extremely unimpressed to say the least. An intruder into her cosy parlour and water bowl and a dog to boot is the last thing with which she wants to contend. It will completely ruin her social standing in Kittens Anonymous for one thing!

 

Ula’s sweet nature and compliant personality win Catvinkle over slowly (of course her delicious musky smell which acts intoxicatingly on the cat helps) but it also endears her to others as she breaks down barriers between not only cats and dogs but dogs and dogs!

 

The subtle themes of anti-racism, anti-bullying, acceptance, tolerance, friendship and loyalty are delivered in a wonderfully funny story where cats who baby-shoe dance, fly with tail propellers and llamas who play backgammon are quite the norm.

 

Readers from around eight years upwards will delight in this magical story of animals whose lives seem to mirror those of humans.

 

 

 

Front Desk – Kelly Yang

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frontdesk

Walker Books

August 2018

ISBN: 9781760650469
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

In a time when so many people are fighting so hard to achieve worldwide tolerance, empathy, inclusivity and acceptance seemingly against huge odds like powerful politicians, this book will bring to readers a real insight into the plight of immigrants.

Based on her own experience as the child of Chinese immigrants to the USA, Kelly Tang relates ten year old Mia’s account of the first few years for her family in America, wealthy land of the free and opportunity for all.

Mia and her parents come to America with high hopes after leaving the poverty of China behind. But the reality is far from their dreams. Despite having skills and qualifications Mia’s parents struggle to find even meanly-paid work in the US and the family live in their car while trying desperately to gain some foothold. When an opportunity to manage a small hotel with free accommodation comes along, the family are beside themselves with joy and relief. But owner, Mr Yao, is a mercenary exploiter who makes their lives incredibly difficult and at times even more impoverished. Along with this Mia is trying to fit in at a new school, where the boss’ son Jason is the only other Asian student in her class and like his father is unpleasant and nasty.

Her sojourn in the motel as she helps her parents by taking charge of the front reception desk opens Mia’s eyes to the extreme racism and exploitation exhibited by many Americans, including their own Asian boss. It is a sobering and depressing insight into a society that ostensibly prides itself on being the refuge of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor”.

One small girl is determined to overcome her language barrier, her lack of confidence and to make a stand against discrimination.  Mia’s journey is one of hope and inspiration and this novel would make a superb read-aloud for middle to upper primary classes paving the way for some deep conversation about equity and compassion.

This is beautifully written and Mia’s voice is compelling as she fights her battles with dignity and honesty.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards

Beck – Mal Peet, with Meg Rossoff

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beck

Walker Books

ISBN: 9781406331127

18 Aug 2016

$24.99

 

Vale Mal Peet.  What a privilege to review this novel from Carnegie Medal winner, Mal Peet post-humously.  It is powerful, it is harrowing, it is positive and you would need to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the narrative.

Ignatious Beck (hereafter known simply as Beck) is the illegitimate child of a mixed encounter. His early life in a Catholic orphanage is mean and cold particularly because of his colour. Then apparently remarkably he is plucked from this horrid existence and put on a boat with a load of other children – all bound for Canada.  On arrival Beck is installed with others in what appears to be a fabulous residence with caring Brothers of a certain Catholic order until their ‘happy resettlement’ with some God-fearing families establishing farms.  The kindly faces and personas of the Brothers are not what they seem. Beck is warned but still uncertain, until he is put into an untenable position and realises the perverted paedophilic intentions of the saviours. Retaliating against the pressure being put upon him Beck is sadistically and ignominiously punished with beatings and rape and then subsequently sent off to an isolated farm.  The uneducated incumbents are shocked to find they have been sent a ‘coloured’boy and promptly relegate him to the barn – and feed him the most meagre rations possible. Not surprisingly Beck takes the first opportunity to escape.

 

And so begins an arduous trek across Canada, running, hiding, struggling, starving. Freezing in a cold lonely stop, Beck hides out in the back of a truck, which turns out to be a runner for illegal alcohol from Canada to the US and suddenly finds himself embraced by the first adult Negro people he has ever seen. When the rival gangs scuttle the operation Beck again finds himself on the road and penniless – set upon by thieves and shysters until finally he hits upon a safe place. Owned by a similarly half-caste person although her other half is North American Indian, Beck finds himself in a place of security.  But the emotional and sexual tension between him and Grace seem to be too much to bear.  No more story now.

This is a powerful novel with echoes from the past resonating with current issues; systematic abuse of children from the Church, forced immigration of orphan children to the colonies (cheap labour often), racial discrimination, poverty and homelessness.

Apparently, as Mal became more and more ill, he asked Meg Rossoff to finish the book if need be  – and that she has with such sensitivity that it is impossible to know where one begins and the other finishes.

I am highly recommending this for your own reading but certainly for your Senior Secondary students – so much to debate and reflect upon and an astounding read as well.