Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World

Mina and the Whole Wide World











Mina and the Whole Wide World

Sherryl Clark

Briony Stewart

UQP, 2021

120pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


More than anything else in the whole wide world Mina wants her own bedroom . And it’s almost ready! Just one more lick of sunny yellow paint and it’s hers.

But then Mina’s parents take in an unexpected guest, and give her room away. At first, Mina is too upset to speak. She is so devastated by her loss and she doesn’t care that this new boy, Azzami, needs a place to stay. Her loss is almost too great to bear. 

At school, the other kids call Azzami names but throughout the bullying, he stays silent.  Mina wishes he’d stand up for himself especially after she ends up in strife for hitting Oliver, the worst of the culprits.  But although Azzami doesn’t speck he draws and he as a tale to tell in his drawings,  a tale made all the more poignant when Mina goes with him to visit his very sick mother.  For the first time she really thinks about the life and loss of the quiet boy, what he has seen and escaped from, the death of his father and the illness of his mother, being the least of them, and gradually the loss of her own bedroom is put into perspective. 

This verse novel for younger readers is an important addition to the collection and a vital inclusion to any study of refugees because it gives the silent among our students a voice.  Even though Azzami himself doesn’t speak, his silence is powerful because it echoes that of so many of those we teach who have experienced trauma and fear that we will never know.  Sadly, there are those like Oliver in every class who cannot cope with difference and manifest their lack of understanding and empathy through a display of power and disdain, but there are also Minas who have a more open mind and benefit by finding friendship and tolerance and gratitude. And there are also wise teachers like Ms Smart who know when to step back and when to step up.

This is a story about finding friendship where you least expect it and making room for everyone across this “whole wide world” and the teachers notes will help guide students’ awareness, knowledge, understanding, compassion and tolerance so that the conversation about acceptance, diversity, and caring for others has a new tone.  In addition, there is much to be learned about Clark’s choice of format, vocabulary and using only Mina’s perspective as a vehicle for  a narrative that needs to be had (seemingly over and over, even though refugees have been a critical part of this country’s fabric and fibre since the end of World War II). 

Look for this among the award nominees in 2022.  


A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars

A Glasshouse of Stars











A Glasshouse of Stars

Shirley Marr

Puffin, 2021

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Meixing Lim and her family have arrived at the New House in the New Land, inherited from First Uncle who died tragically and unexpectedly while picking oranges in the backyard. Everything is vast and unknown to Meixing and not in a good way, including the house she has dubbed Big Scary. She is embarrassed by the second-hand shoes given to her by the kind neighbours, has trouble understanding the language at school, and with fitting in and making new friends. Her solace is a glasshouse in the garden that inexplicably holds the sun and the moon and all the secrets of her memory and imagination.

Her fragile universe is rocked when tragedy strikes and Ma Ma refuses to face the world outside. Meixing finds herself trapped within the shrinking walls of Big Scary. Her parents said this would be a better life for them all, but it feels like the worst and most heart-breaking experience of Meixing’s entire existence. Surviving will take all the resilience and inner belief of this brave girl to turn their world around.

In this intriguing novel, the author has drawn on the good, the bad and the ugly of her own experiences of arriving in Australia in the 1980s after being a refugee on Christmas Island and having to adjust to such a different life and lifestyle.  Her “Western mind and Eastern heart” resonate throughout the story, offering the reader an insight into what it must be like for so many of their peers and perhaps helping them to understand and interact with them better.  

Jessica Townsend, the author of the Nevermoor series, has described this book as “‘Heart-twisting and hopeful, bursting with big feelings and gentle magic. This is a special book from a powerful, compassionate new voice in children’s literature, destined to be read and loved for generations and held close in many hearts (including mine).’  And, really, that says it all. More for the upper end of the readership of this blog, nevertheless it is one that needs to be shared with your mature, capable independent readers who are wanting something that will engage them and stay with them long after the last page is read.  While they will need to have some tissues handy as they ride the rollercoaster of emotions as Meixing faces the changes and the accompanying ‘big scaries’ they will rejoice in her resilience and ultimate triumph. 
















Inda Ahmad Zahri

Anne Ryan

Ford Street, 2021

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Once Salih’s life was ice creams at the park, his favourite teacher and warm milk at bedtime but now, like his pet tortoise, he carries his home on his back as his family, and thousands of others try to escape the deafening blasts of bombs, the white dust shrouding the sun and the sound of crying in the darkness.  There is some solace when an old man teaches him to paint his happy memories on the scraps of waste paper that blow past their nighttime camps and Salih encourages others to do the same.  He has plans for the pictures, keeping each one and rolling it up and putting it in a bottle to scatter on the ocean.  But when they finally  get there, the sea is angry and tosses the bottles and the families hither and thither – will they find a safe, welcoming new home?

Written in 2018 when thousands fled across the Mediterranean to find sanctuary in Europe, this is a story that will bring a new world to young readers -that of being a refugee, or as in the recent conflict in Gaza, a life that means living with bombs and noise and dust and constant fear. Sadly, it might be all too real for some of our students so this is one that must be handled sensitively by a teacher who knows the students well.  But if we are to acknowledge the perils that some of our students have faced and build awareness and empathy in those who have had an easier upbringing, then sharing stories like this is a way to do it.  There are two sets of teachers’ notes to accompany this story – the first focuses on refugees generally and the activity which has students selecting the items they would take if they had to flee but which must fit into their backpack is very powerful’ the second focuses on a spread by spread examination of the book. Both give students a better understanding of what life is like for too many children in this world. 

A story that puts life into perspective offering a way to help students deal with their own problems even if they are not as dire as Salih’s.  .

Amira’s Suitcase

Amira's Suitcase

Amira’s Suitcase











Amira’s Suitcase

Vikki Conley

Nicky Johnston

New Frontier, 2021

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


When Amira’s family arrive in their new home as refugees, it is clearly different from what Amira is used to and she is felling lost and alone.  But hiding in her suitcase is a tiny seedling struggling for life and it becomes her new best friend, thriving as she nurtures and nourishes it. Something warm starts to grow inside her  as she is reminded of happier times. 

As children do, Amira meets some of the other children in the camp who share their seeds with her and despite being surrounded by poverty, tin shacks, and not much else between them and the friendship that grows like their plants, they are able to bring a little beauty to the bleak environment and harsh life that is now their reality. And just as the seedlings climb and reach for the sun, so do the children build hopes and dreams.

This is a gentle text that tells an all-too common story of displacement but it is tempered by the friendships that are born and thrive like the seedling in Amira’s suitcase. It is a story of acceptance and hope as the children reach out to each other oblivious to race, colour, beliefs and backgrounds, seeing only someone to talk to, to play with and who understands the circumstances. Smiles appear on their faces again as families meet new families and a community begins to grow because a little girl felt lonely and found a seed.

There will be children in our care who will have their own stories to share about camps such as that Amira finds herself in, in a world very different to what they have now and that of the children who are their peers.  But just like Amira they will build new friendships and a new future buoyed by seeing themselves in a story book, learning that just like plants, friendships need to be nurtured to make them strong and healthy. 



Small Town

Small Town

Small Town











Small Town

Phillip Gwynne

Tony Flowers

Puffin, 2020

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


Milly loves her little town – in fact it is so nice, they named it twice.  But sadly, others don’t find it as attractive and fulfilling and families keep moving to the city.  Within just a short time her basketball team comprising the four Chloes and Milly shrinks as both Chloe P and Chloe B leave – they might even have to let the boys play!

But then Milly learns about the refugees who have had to leave their own countries and who have nothing – and she has an idea.  Can one letter and a video made by Granny Mac save the town?

This is a unique, charming story about the resourcefulness and resilience of a young girl who sees an opportunity and acts on it.  Echoing the plight of many little towns in this vast country as the appeal and perceived opportunities of the cities beckon, Gong Gong could almost be renamed Anytown, Australia and its scenery, so artfully depicted by Tony Flowers will be recognisable everywhere. But not every town has a Milly who really just wants more players for the basketball team but starts a change that will turn empty houses into homes once more and vacant shopfronts into hubs of employment and breathe new life into a community looking for a focus.

With the story echoing those of many places such as Nhill in Victoria, but making a child the protagonist, Phillip Gwynne has put a national issue into the realm of children’s understanding perhaps sparking the imagination of some other child looking to bolster their sports team.  

Compelling reading that may start something, particularly as we emerge from lockdown and look for alternatives to crowded city life.

The Caveman Next Door

The Caveman Next Door

The Caveman Next Door









The Caveman Next Door

Tom Tinn-Disbury

New Frontier, 2019

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


Penny’s street and home were just like any others until a caveman moved into an empty lot next door.  A caveman who cooked his meals outside, didn’t have a TV, didn’t wear socks and whose furniture (what there was of it) was made of sticks and stones. And he didn’t speak English – all he could do was grunt.

One day after school, Penny decided to show him around the neighbourhood – the library, the bus, the park, a restaurant… But wherever they went, and no matter how hard he tried, Ogg didn’t know what to do or how to act and they were shown the door of every place. Until Penny took him to her school…

It’s hard enough fitting into a new neighbourhood when you speak the language and have mastered the social niceties, but to do so without either of these like Ogg, must be overwhelming and daunting.  And yet, with our multicultural and global perspective that welcomes people from all over the world, this must be a common experience for many.  While the children are able to go to school, make friends, learn the language and the expectations, parents, particularly mums, are left at home isolated, mixing only with others who share their lifestyle and so a vicious cycle of exclusion and racism begins.  While Ogg’s attempts to do the right thing are funny, there is an underlying pathos at his awkwardness and also a sadness at the actions of those who object to his actions.  Only at school does he find compassion.  

Using a caveman analogy to bring awareness to the issues of being different is clever because not only does it highlight just how hard it can be, no one can criticise the author for being insensitive towards one group or another.  It certainly opens up the opportunities for discussions about how we respond to newcomers and identifying those things peculiar to us that they might have difficulty adjusting to as well as putting the students in Ogg’s shoes.  With space travel on the horizon, what if they went to Mars to live and found there were indeed Martians…?

While the theme of being different, fitting in and accepting others is common in children’s picture book, even though it might be expressed in a unique way each time, the more often we expose our students to these sorts of stories and talk about them, provoke their thinking and even develop strategies to embrace all, then the better and stronger the communities we build will be.  Strong, united communities are the key to a peaceful, harmonious future if we are to move beyond the current, nationalistic “our best interests” philosophy and look at what is good for humanity as a whole.

The Voyage

The Voyage

The Voyage










The Voyage

Robert Vescio

Amanda Edmonds

EK Books, 2019

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


Fourteen words. If books were priced based on the number of words the story had, then you would probably ask for your money back with this one, but those 14 words document a life-changing episode in one family – a family that could be any one of a number of those whose children we teach and will teach as conflict continues to circle the world. Just fourteen words to tell such a story that are more powerful than if there were 10 or 100 times that many. 

War displaces the family and their pet duck and so they must escape on a boat into the unknown. At first there is the CHAOS of the conflict; then there is the WILD ocean as a storm tosses the boat and overturns it;but BEAUTY awaits as they finally sight land ahead and at last they are SAFE.

But words alone are not enough and it is the remarkable and powerful watercolour illustrations that meld with those 14 words to tell an all-too familiar story of despair, hope, courage, resilience and joy. In fact, more mature readers might be able to empathise with the family and retell the story using an emotion for each page, perhaps sparking greater understanding and compassion  for their peers who have lived the nightmare.  But while those illustrations have strong words to convey, they have soft lines and gentle colours so the humanity and reality of the people is maintained and the reader is not turned off by page after page of darkness.. Again, older students could compare the illustrations and mood of this book with those of the 2019 CBCA Honours Book The Mediterranean

Accompanying notes tell us that both author and illustrator were driven by the need to tell what is becoming a common story so that there is greater understanding and compassion amongst those whose lives are less traumatic and through that, build stronger, more cohesive communities so that life is better, enriched and enhanced for everyone. Edmonds deliberately chose a Middle Eastern family as her centrepiece because of the richness of the culture so that the reader can appreciate the depth and meaning of what is being left behind – the dilemma  of leaving  all that is known and loved for the uncertainty of the unknown and the heartache and danger that either choice will bring.

Beyond the storyline itself, this is a book that so clearly demonstrates the critical, integral relationship between text and illustration, that a picture really is “worth a thousand words” , and often the picture book format is the most powerful way to tell a story.

Look for this one in the 2020 awards lists.


A Home for Luna

A Home for Luna

A Home for Luna










A Home for Luna

Stef Gemmill

Mel Armstrong

New Frontier, 2019

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


On a cold, moonlit night a dark crate washes up on a lonely shore, and out crawls a bedraggled, lonely cat, wary of her surroundings so different from the home she remembers, but glad to be out of the ceaseless motion of the sea.  As daylight creeps up, she woke and looked around only to find herself among creatures that didn’t look like anything she had seen, certainly not cats, but the familiar fishy smell drew her forward. 

Too tired to move, she lay on the rocks watching the penguins swim and return with fish, making her tummy rumbled.  And then one of them approached her… is this a friendly move or one fraught with fear?

Mel Armstrong, an experienced illustrator making her children’s book debut, has created bold illustrations which suggest that Luna is  no weak, wimpy cat and so the reader expects that this story is going to go well beyond that initial meeting and that conflict or camaraderie. there is some meat to it.

On the surface, this is a simple story about two creatures forming an unlikely friendship, one that reaches a climax when humans arrive at the colony and decide that it is no place for a cat.  But looking beneath the surface, could it be the story of a refugee arriving in a strange land amongst strange people, and being accepted just for who they are, rather than anything else?  And a government making a determination about their suitability to stay?  Or am I viewing it through the lens of so many news stories about worthy people facing deportation, so much so my views of a children’s story have been tainted and I see allegory each time I read a story like this?  Whichever, it is refreshing to read one that is about resilience and hope and which has the sort of ending we would all wish for, whether it’s a cat washed ashore or a person. 

Read more about the story behind the story here

A peek inside...

A peek inside…












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.



Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Grandma's Treasured Shoes

Grandma’s Treasured Shoes










Grandma’s Treasured Shoes

Coral Vass

Christina Huynh

NLA Publishing, 2019

36pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


Grandma has oodles and oodles of shoes.

Walk to the park shoes

Dance in the dark shoes

Fun shoes and sun shoes

Out and about shoes

Splash in the rain shoes

Fancy shoes, 

Plain shoes,

But her favourite shoes 

Are her worn and torn shoes

From a time long ago

And a land far away. 

For they are the shoes of her childhood in wartorn Vietnam, a time when her childhood was like that of others until the night she and her family have to flee with just the shoes on their feet.  They are shoes that take her on a terrifying journey to a new land where she is given new shoes to wear.  But she never forgets or discards those old shows with the memories and stories they hold for her.

Beginning with a rhyme and rhythm reminiscent of Frida Wolfe’s poem Choosing Shoes , this is a story that could be that of the grandmother or grandfather of any number of our students who have come to Australia as refugees, but in particular those who fled the Viet Cong and arrived here in boats in the 1970s. (But not always to the welcome that Grandma gets.) Using the shoes as a vehicle to tell the story of the fear and the flight, both author and illustrator have introduced the young reader to the story of refugees in a sensitive, non-confrontational way.  They have put themselves in the shoes of those who have had to flee their countries and imagined that regardless of the country, “that each shoe would have a different tale of danger, hardship, sacrifice and the cost of freedom to tell.”

This approach is rich in possibilities for a wide age group – children could tell the story of their shoes’ daily journey while those who have been in Grandma’s situation might feel comfortable about telling their story through the perspective of their shoes.  It could also serve as a lead-in to a series of lessons about perspective and how the different role a person has in a situation alters how the story is told. For example, what might be the glass slipper’s version of the Cinderella story? In a time when immigration is once more in the news as the tragedy in Christchurch starts debates again, older students might even examine the different responses by those such as Jacinda Ardern (#theyareus) and Donald Trump (building the wall).

As usual with NLA publications, there are pages of information at the back, these ones outlining the history of refugees in Australia and in particular, those who came from Vietnam in the 70s, the grandmothers and grandfathers of so many of our students. Perfect for Harmony Day celebrations or any focus on the multicultural nature of this country.



Grandma’s Treasured Shoes from STYNA on Vimeo.