Search Results for: detention












Tristan Bancks

Puffin, 2019

240pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one. 

When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents. 

Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block. 

What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She’s breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?

Whatever decisions are made will change their lives forever.

With the rise and spread of nationalist, right-wing conservative governments around the globe, xenophobia is alive and well in communities and countries around the world. In Australia it is always a hot topic particularly around election time and especially since former prime minister John Howard declared, “It’s about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people, taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” in an election speech just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001.

Having just had another federal election with the rhetoric of asylum seekers, detention centres and people’s rights claiming a lot of media space and votes, this new book from Tristan Bancks is very timely. In it, through the students in the Reading Superstars class and their teacher Miss Aston, he asks the questions that need to be considered about the plight of refugees, particularly as much of what the children say is the echo of their parents’ perspectives. Bancks says he has tried to tell the story as “a human one, rather than a political one” and he has achieved this as the reader becomes very invested in the plights of Simi and Dan and constantly wonders what would they do if they were either of those characters.

In my opinion, the greatest power of this book is in the hands of a class teacher reading it aloud and discussing the issues as Miss Aston does while she and her charges are in lockdown. That way, a range of points of view can be explored and explained, taking the story to a whole new level, rather than being an individual read that throws up questions but for which the reader doesn’t seek answers. And that teacher should be prepared to answer the inevitable, “What would you do if you were Miss Aston?”

Books for this age group are rarely the focus of reviews on this blog, but I believe that this is such an essential read as part of any study about migration and refugees, it deserves all the publicity it can get. Superb.



Nit Boy

Nit Boy

Nit Boy


Nit Boy

Tristan Bancks

Heath McKenzie

Puffin, 2020

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Lewis Snow has the worst case of nits in world history. Everyone wants him to shave his head. But Lewis thinks of his nits as pets. He’s determined to keep his hair and his nits, whatever it takes.

Ned lives on Lewis’s head. He’s the first-ever jumping nit. His dad wants Ned to help nits take over the world. But Ned likes it on Lewis’s head. Ned’s vegan and hates the taste of human blood.

In the tradition of a number of other authors who have captured the imagination of boys of a certain age who like stories that are about bodily functions that are not normally the subject of polite, adult conversation, Bancks and McKenzie have developed a cast of characters and crafted tales that fit the criteria perfectly.  Who hasn’t started feeling itchy and anxious the minute a case of nits is confirmed in a classroom?  Starting with his explanation that nits are just the unhatched form of head lice, Bancks will capture the interest and imagination of that cohort who delight in seeing others squirm and will not only have them  reading from beginning to end and demanding more, but also starting a cult following of the series among their peers.

We know Bancks is a gifted author with unputdownable stories like Detention, Two Wolves and The Fall to his credit  so for all its wacky premise, there will be a quality story at the heart of this book and when combined with the talent of McKenzie that this will be a hit series with its intended audience.  The bonus is that there are two books in one in this release so readers will not have to wait for the next episode.

Landing with Wings

Landing with Wings

Landing with Wings










Landing with Wings

Trace Balla

Allen & Unwin, 2020

80pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Mira and her mother are moving from their home near the sea to the goldfields of the Bendigo area, somewhere very foreign to Mira and she has no idea what to expect.  Her life is being turned upside down and she writes a farewell letter to her favourite tea-tree, beginning her recording of this new adventure which is scary but also a teeeeeny bit exciting. “Just a bit. It’s sort of like not knowing what’s on the next page and wanting to turn it to see what happens.”

Like Miri, Trace Balla loves to observe nature by sketching it and so, inspired by a story she saw about a refugee Syrian girl in an Australian detention centre whose future was equally uncertain, she has taken Miri on this journey of having her life upended and gradually discovering this new place, one that takes her back to her indigenous roots of the Dja Dja Wurrung people until she finally finds her home.

This is another intriguing graphic novel from the creator of Rivertime and  Rockhopping  that is just as extraordinary as those predecessors because of the levels and layers within the story. While  on the surface it seems like a personal recount of moving from one place to another, emphasised by the first-person narrative and hand-written font, there is also a bigger picture journey being told, that of anyone whose life is suddenly and permanently disrupted and having to find their place in a new landscape, whether that is physical, emotional or metaphorical. If they are lucky, they will land with wings and with the insight of someone like Trace Balla to guide them, they will learn to reflect on their experience and understand how it has shaped them just as much as the original catalyst.

A silver lining of this current situation of isolation is that we now have the time to read and appreciate this book in all its nuances, for we have each had our own journeys and this encourages us to revisit, review and reflect on them and their impact. It is just what we need at this time to get our lives back into perspective and see the whole rather than just the daily detail, yet, as Balla illustrates, it is the daily detail that builds up the whole. 


The Day War Came

The Day War Came

The Day War Came








The Day War Came

Nicola Davies

Rebecca Cobb

Walker, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


It started as an ordinary day- there were flowers on the window sill, her father sang to her baby brother, her mother made her breakfast, kissed her nose and walked with her to school,  School was ordinary too – she learned about volcanoes, how tadpoles turned to frogs and she drew a picture of a bird.

But then, just after lunch war came.  The devastation and desperation was complete.  The only salvation was to run – through fields, roads,and mountains in the cold and the mud and the rain; riding on trucks, buses, even a leaky boat and eventually up a beach where shoes lay empty in the sand. 

But war had come to this nation too – not the bombs-and-bullets type of war but one where hearts and minds are closed to those seeking refuge – until there is one act of kindness that changes both thinking and lives…

It is tragic enough that here in Australia some think it is OK to  put desperate children in detention, children who have suffered more than the decision-makers can ever imagine; but to know that Australia is not alone in this as evident by the recent policies of the US administration and that this poem was inspired by UK government refusing sanctuary to 3000 unaccompanied child refugees in 2016 is heart-breaking and head-shaking.  How has humanity become so selfish it can’t give succour to a child?

Told through the eyes of the child it not only puts a face to all the children displaced by adult motives but also makes the stories and plight of these children accessible to young readers – readers who might be like the little boy in the story and start a groundswell of change.  It is a book that cannot be shared in isolation – it needs a conversation that focuses on the girl’s emotions and feelings; her resilience and determination; and the big question “what if this were you?” (and some of our students may well be able to tell us because it has been them.) 

In a world that seems to be driven by economics rather than empathy this is a book that might start to change things, if now now then perhaps for the future.  Perhaps it is time for another make-love-not-war generation, despite the current protagonists being the products of the previous one. 

Suri’s Wall

Suri's Wall

Suri’s Wall










Suri’s Wall

Lucy Estela

Matt Ottley

Penguin 2015

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Suri lived a lonely life.  As if being isolated from the outside world in a citadel with a high wall and a guard on the gate wasn’t enough, being much taller than the other children has made them suspicious of her and she is shunned by them. She is so tall that she even has dinner at a special table and sleeps in a special bed. Her heart aches for their company but instead she has only the wall with its stones and mortar which gave her warmth when she touched them.  She even loved the iron gate!

Every month Suri measured herself against the wall until one day she discovered she was taller than it!  She could see over the top!  Not only that, she feels a tugging on her hand and as the feeling spread through her body, she discovers one of the children holding her hand begging her to tell her what she can see over the wall. 

 *Can you see, Suri?  Are you tall enough?”

“Yes, Eva, I can.”
“What’s there? What can you see?”

”What can I see?” Suri looked out over the wall.  “Oh, it’s beautiful, let me tell you all about it.”

As she tells the children of the beautiful sights she can see, they are entranced by her words.  Suddenly, the walls in Suri’s life are destroyed and at long last she is one of the children.  They were no longer afraid of her and she was no longer lonely.  And so the days go on and on and Suri entrances the children with stories of what she can see. 

But what Suri sees and what she tells the children are two different things… and even though she knows that they will find out that it’s not the rosy, dream-filled picture she has described, it will not be today that they discover the reality. Despite the war-torn town below, Suri tells the children what she knows they want to hear not what she can see.  Not only does it keep their spirits up, but ensures their friendship for a little longr.

Accompanied by stunning exquisite illustrations that capture Suri’s imagination, the mood and atmosphere perfectly, this is a most sensitive story about being different and being lonely. Within the wall, the palette is muted, almost gloomy but Suri’s visions are a riot of colour and joy. We don’t learn why the children are kept behind the wall but there are suggestions of children in detention centres in Australia peeking through, isolated through no fault of their own and desperately wondering what life is like on the other side of the fences that keep them confined.  But throughout there is a thread of hope, that the innate goodness of the human spirit will prevail as the children get to keep their innocence for a little longer.

This is a picture book for older children rather than the very young because those with a little more experience will appreciate the underlying story better, perhaps even understand that physical walls are not the only things that imprison us.  Just being different can be isolating in itself and hopefully something will crack the wall and open the heart.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…