Archive for the 'Young Readers' Category

Book review: The Truth About Peacock Blue

Hawke, Rosanne, 2015, The Truth About Peacock Blue, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

Compelling

This latest novel for young people written by South Australian author Rosanne Hawke is compelling reading. It is one of those stories you can’t put down, but you know that to go on reading will be confronting, challenging, and even infuriating. I say ‘infuriating’ because many readers will want to jump into the story personally and put right some terrible injustices. The caption under the title on the cover encapsulates the story so well: A powerful story about one girl’s fight for justice in Pakistan.

Contemporary

This story deals with real issues in the real world in the lives of real people today. While it is fiction Hawke has been inspired by the true story of Pakistani woman Asia Bibi who has been accused of blasphemy. She has been in prison for five years and remains there as I write this. I read this novel shortly after finishing the autobiography of I Am Malala – you can read my review here. That was confronting enough, but on the very next morning after reading Hawke’s novel our guest speaker at our church was Bishop Patrick Sookhdeo, founder of the Barnabas Fund. He spoke graphically of the growing crisis in Syria and surrounding countries, as well as issues in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Challenging

The brother of the protagonist Aster dies due to an illness. She is then thrust into the limelight as the hope of the family. She is enrolled in the high school where her brother was to attend. She is at first excited and keenly looking forward to the opportunity of an education, something denied many girls in Pakistan.

Life quickly turns sour for Aster in her new school. Being a Christian in a predominantly Muslim community has many challenges for her. When one of her teachers takes a strong dislike to her, life becomes very challenging and potentially dangerous. In the midst of the anxiety of exams, Aster is suddenly arrested in front of her fellow students because of something she wrote in her paper.  She is accused of blasphemy, a serious crime which leads to the death penalty in Pakistan.

Confronting

The remainder of the story documents the struggle Aster has to come to terms with life in prison. The conditions are confronting to readers like myself: atrocious, inhumane and downright filthy, not to mention dangerous. Her trial is rescheduled a number of times and her challenges mount daily. Throughout all of this she never loses her faith which shines through the darkness and evil all around. I had to personally face the question: ‘How would I react and cope if faced with similar persecution?’ In my sheltered life here in Australia I have never been confronted by such issues.

Campaign

Aster’s Australian cousin Maryam takes up the challenge of helping her. She starts an online campaign in the form of a blog and a worldwide petition on behalf of Aster. Hawke has cleverly used fictional quotes from the blog to debate some of the issues surrounding this terrible law of blasphemy. Similar real-life, heart-wrenching campaigns are becoming far too common place today.

Conclusion

Once again Rosanne Hawke has written an emotive, fast moving and insightful novel. The reader gets an in-depth view of life in a repressed country with all the cultural, social and religious  nuances at play in the lives of her characters. By the end of the book the reader has a strong sense of the utter hopelessness of her fellow prisoners but also of Aster’s hope under-girded by her strong Christian faith.

Highly recommended.

Further reading:

  • I am Malala
  • Kerenza – my review of Rosanne Hawke’s novel (this article has several other links to reviews of her works)
  • Shahana – my review of another of Hawke’s novels

Rosanne Hawke talking to fans at the launch of “Marrying Ameera”

 

Writing children’s books

I am currently visiting my grandchildren who live interstate. It’s a joy I have only a few times every year, but so interesting to see their development and to play with them a whole range of games. Their ages are 4 and 1, so they are still developing in many ways, especially in their imaginations.

One of the special delights is cuddling up for story time. Both parents are book lovers, so their home has many books. Family and friends have also made sure the two little ones have plenty of books in their lives. And to add to the wonderful books in the home, a new branch library has just recently opened up in an old church building five minutes’ walk up the road.

In reading books daily to the grandchildren – and sometimes several times a day – once again has impressed upon me the importance of reading in the life of a child. So much language development occurs in this pre-school period. So many books are rich in wonderful language. But more than that, there is so much cultural heritage which can be absorbed by the young, developing mind. There are also the many environmental concepts which can also be introduced through non fiction. Last night my grandson and I spent nearly an hour pouring over a book about farming; he lives in Australia”s largest city so this is an excellent way of talking about my heritage; I grew up on a farm.

The case for reading to and with children is so important and soundly supported by the research. What is less emphasised, I feel, is the importance of reading children’s books if one desires to be writing children’s books. Just like in the importance of books in the life of a developing child, so is the reading of children’s books vital in the development of the aspiring children’s authors. You cannot read too many, and there are so many wonderful children’s books out there now you will certainly be entertained for many years to come.

Good reading.

Good writing.

Review: Taj and the great camel trek

Cover of "Taj and the great camel trek"

Book review:

Rosanne Hawke: Taj and the great camel trek.

Published in 2011 by University of Queensland Press.

Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend the Adelaide launch of Rosanne Hawke’s latest novel. I am becoming addicted to launches of her books; this is the fourth one I’ve attended in three years. As anticipated it was a joyous time of celebration because I know how hard she has struggled with this story over the last 4 years.

The main character, twelve year old Taj, lived in Beltana in outback South Australia in the 1870s. His father is a cameleer and Taj has his own camel Mustara, a character in its own right. In fact, Taj and Mustara have featured in another Hawke book, the picture book Mustara.

Cover of "Mustara"

Taj and Mustara are invited to join explorer Ernest Giles on his second expedition  across Australia from Beltana to Port Augusta and then on to Perth in Western Australia. It is not a journey to be undertaken lightly because much of the territory they planned to cover is desert, for most part uninhabited even by local Aboriginal people. The team accompanying Giles struggle with coming to terms with the isolation, their own feelings of fear,  the harsh environmental conditions and the almost total lack of water. At times, they traversed many hundreds of miles without finding a drop of water. The whole journey has them on the very edge of disaster throughout, giving the reader a sense of the extreme hardships they endured.

While this is a novel, written as fiction and from Taj’s point of view, many of the incidents and characters are based on real events and real people taken from Giles’ own journal and the records in newspapers of the day. Taj himself is a fictitious character which points to the real strength of this book. Rosanne revealed at the launch that this book was originally conceived as non-fiction, but early on in her research and early drafts discovered that fiction was a far more powerful vehicle to tell the story. In this way the author has brought history to life for the reader, a delicate balancing act at the best of times. She has handled the transition with great skill. We see and feel the anxiety of the party through the eyes and emotions of Taj.

Highly recommended reading.

Links:

Disclosure: Rosanne was my supervising lecturer when I completed my Master of Arts (Creative Writing) course recently. Apart from being a great friend and an amazing mentor, I gain nothing from promoting her books and the merchandise associated with it. Reviewing her books is just my way of saying ‘thank you, Rosanne.’

Rosanne Hawke and a friend

 

Children’s Book of the Year winners 2010

The Children’s Book Council of Australia has announced the winners of this year’s Book of the Year awards.

For the full list of both the winning books and the honour books click here.

Permit me a few moments of dreaming: I hope one day my name will be listed in these awards.

Okay – dream over – back to editing my novel so that someday I can be in the running.

Good writing.

Journal Writing

Some writers do not understand the power of regularly writing in a personal journal.

Journal writing is an excellent way of honing many writing skills that are essential to the writing process. It doesn’t matter much whether you write fiction, non-fiction, articles or blogs, regular writing practice is essential. If possible, I’d encourage all writers, especially beginner writers, to write every day, even if in the first few months or years journal writing is all you do.

I’ve kept a personal journal since July 1990. That means the 20th anniversary is coming up very soon; I must remember to celebrate it here on this blog. I write about anything that comes to mind about events and people in my life. I filled several hand written volumes at first but in recent years I have tended to use my computer. One day I might get around to printing it all out and binding the pages into booklets.

More recently I have also been keeping a writing journal. In this I have recorded the processes I have gone through in writing my stories, especially my recent novels. The journals include details of my ideas, sources of  inspiration, research findings and the decisions I had to make along the way. In part you can read how I went about ‘Writing a Novel’ here.

When I was a classroom teacher I used Journal Writing as an integral part of encouraging children to write. The skills developed in my programme had some amazing results, not just with writing. I wrote about it in this article: The Power of Journal Writing – a Story of Hope.

This article relates the experience I had with one of my former students. I bring it to your attention now – especially for my many new readers who may have missed it at the time.

Good writing.