Lothian, 2008, 9780734410566 (Australia)

This is my picture book of 2008 – a poignant and necessary story of an ordinary Australian family who find themselves in the midst of a war, and as refugees, are placed in a detention camp. The book is heartbreaking, and older kids should read it. Yes, it will make them upset. Yes, it will make them ask questions. It will shock them like Anne Frank’s diary shocked me when I first read it in Year 4. But it is different to the shock registered from a bit of violence in a movie, or even war images on TV. It is not a fast, look away, type of experience. It has the potential to open their minds, and ours, as older readers. Or for parents, imagining if it were their child, their family.

The book is effective for a couple of reasons. One is John Marsden’s ability to get inside the mind of an adolescent. The book is a series of diary entries by a fifteen year-old, casually describing his family’s quirks, and their life, then sadly recalling the events as they unfold. There are reminiscences of Tomorrow When the War Began and its sequels, but it obviously parallels the current situation of detained refugees in Australia, who have fled from war-torn countries. The story is about empathy. The second striking aspect is shiver-inducing illustrations by Matt Ottley. Some pages are scribbles from family members. Others are dark renderings of a world turned asunder: the family, skeletal, around a table; the ocean; a stern guard, bearing down.

This is a disturbing, moving, and as I mentioned necessary picture book.

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