Some thought-provoking Australian novels for children have appeared recently. Standouts include New Boy by Nick Earls (Puffin), Run, Pip, Run by J.C. Jones (Allen & Unwin), Dropping In by Geoff Havel (Fremantle Press), Birrung the Secret Friend by Children’s Laureate, Jackie French (Angus & Robertson) and Plenty by Ananda Braxton-Smith (Black Dog Books, Walker Books).
Nick Earls uses some of his own experiences as an Irish boy moving to Australia in one of his best works for children so far, New Boy.
Earls’ character, Herschelle moves to Australia and has to deal with bullying and racism as a white South African who speaks English. His teacher looks Chinese but speaks with an Australian accent. Herschelle was popular and sporty but is now paired with Max, who looks like a nerd. Humour, and embarrassment, is derived from misunderstanding of Australian slang and idioms, such as ‘bring a plate’. This book is a very clever twist on the usual refugee story. Displacement comes in many forms.
Run, Pip, Run by newcomer J.C. Jones is quite a hard-hitting story about a 10-year-old girl who lives with an old man and tries to manage alone when he is taken to hospital. Her teacher, Mr Blair, is intuitive and tries to help her, endangering his own position. Pip is an engaging, resourceful character. This novel makes important points about child welfare and children at risk.
Stick and Ranga are adventurous and include new boy, James, who has cerebral palsy, in their stunts. A girl, Jess, also joins their group, and Stick isn’t quite sure how he should act around her.
Jackie French has begun a new series for younger readers with Birrung the Secret Friend.
Sydney’s early European colony is brought to life through the eyes of Barney who is welcomed into the home of clergyman, Richard Johnson and his wife when he is starving. Aboriginal girl, Birrung, also lives there. Johnson’s love and care, even at the risk of his own health, for the people around him is told through the likable lens of Barney’s eyes and voice.
And Ananda Braxton-Smith’s story, Plenty about 10-year-old Maddy who has to move to the country is a stunner. Maddy loved her home and friends but gradually falls under the spell of her Nana’s indigenous orchids and learns what home and sanctuary really are from Sudanese refugee girl, Grace. The writing and imagery is first-rate.