In this post, we have three books - one each from Africa, Australia and Asia, that deal with forced migration.
Written by Beverley Naidoo
Illustrated by Lisa Kopper
Published by HarperCollins Children's Books
13-year old Naledi and her 9-year-old brother Tiro live with their grandmother in their village. Their father has passed away a few years back after a lifetime of breathing in the dust in underground mines, and their mother has to live in Johannesburg, 250 kms from their village, if she is too earn enough to run their family. Under the apartheid laws of the country, she has a pass to live only in Jo'burg, and can visit them only occasionally.
But now their little sister Dineo is seriously ill, with a burning fever, and it is important for them to get Mma (mother) home so that she can be taken to the hospital, and the two children decide by themselves to walk to Jo'burg to find her. Do they reach her safely? There are the white police who arrest anyone over 16 who does not have an appropriate 'pass', and rules about the segregation of the black and white people that they have no idea about. Even the schools, they learn, are different, those for black children teaching them skills useful only for a lifetime as servants to the white citizens - as their mother is, working as a full-time housekeeper and nanny in a rich white home, called by a name they have given her, not able to take more than a week off to look after her seriously ill little girl, because it inconveniences her rich employers, risking losing her 'pass' to live and work in the city if she loses her job, thus making her a target for the police who could then legally arrest her. Not even being paid enough despite all of this.
A coming of age story - Naledi, the 13 year old protagonist, realizes many things she had no idea about until then. The unfairness of the situation, the fact that students in the cities like Soweto were willing to die for the right to equality in education. The way the white government's policies were tearing apart almost all black families, and even then there wasn't enough for them to survive with dignity.
Beverley Naidoo has written a very accessible book that becomes an excellent teaching point about the ills of apartheid in the 1980s - that forced close family members of coloured families to stay apart just to be able to survive. A gentle book that nevertheless carries a potent message - this book was considered too incendiary and was banned in South Africa until a year after apartheid was abolished and Nelson Mandela came to power. A book from where children can be sensitised about similar problems even now happening in many parts of the world - even the issue of the right domestic workers have to a life of dignity.
The book has a foreword by Michael Rosen, a previous Children's Laureate, that discusses all this and more, and an afterword by Beverley Naidoo, that tells the story of her growing up white in South Africa, facing apartheid while living with her husband of Indian origin, their exile to England as a result, and about how and why this book was written.
Tom Appleby Convict Boy
Written by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins Children's Books Australia
Tom Appleby loses his father, a printer by profession, to a sentence in the stocks for printing blasphemous material. As an orphan in the England of the 1780s, he is taken to the workhouse, and sold to be worked as a chimney sweep. Here, he makes a friend, Jem, who has dreams of escape. But before their dreams become reality, Jem is dead, stuck in a bend of a chimney, and Tom gets caught stealing some petty cash. He could have been hanged for his crime. The judge, however, taking his age into account, sentences him to transportation and 7 years hard labour. What that means, is that our protagonist is put on a ship sailing to the newly discovered land down under. While waiting for the ship to be assigned, he has a harrowing few months at the Old Bailey, a notorious prison. Here, he becomes friends with the prison midwife, who gives him a piece of advice - always have at least one close friend, and be loyal to them, no matter what.
The year is 1787. On the journey, Tom is shackled down in the hold of the ship with the other convicts. It is a harrowing few months in the dark, filthy hold, as they travel on the First Fleet to Australia. On the rare occasions when the convicts are permitted on the deck, he notices a boy around his age among the officers' families, on the upper deck. Even across the divide of the two decks, and more importantly, social status, the two boys make eye contact, and an acknowledgement of each other.
On landing in Sydney harbour, Tom expects to be sent in for hard labour with the other convicts, but as luck would have it, the other boy, whose name Tom finds out is Rob, requests his father to have Tom assigned to his family, which, the officer in charge of the convicts agrees to reluctantly.
What happens next? Does Tom manage to rise above his unfortunate situation? How are his fortunes affected by his association with Rob and his father?
A sensitively told story of a child exiled to an unknown land, all alone in the world, and who makes his fortune through sheer willpower and courage. A historical novel by Jackie French, (interviewed earlier at Saffron Tree) that tells the story of the earliest European settlers in Australia, as experienced through the eyes of a child convict, and a free child. There is an interesting subplot about the Native Aborigine people and their relationship with their land, though not very well explored.
The Secret Keeper
Written by Mitali Perkins
Published by Harper
It is 1974. A time of political churning in India, and an unstable job scenario. Asha's father loses his well paying job in New Delhi, and decides to go to New York to look for another job. His wife and two daughters, 17 year old Reet and 14 year old Asha, are sent to Calcutta, where they will stay with his parents and elder brother's family. It is a temporary move, so the girls agree to adjust to a more restrictive atmosphere than they have been used to all their lives. Asha in particular, chafes at having to grow her hair, give up her tennis, wear a sari, and be fenced inside the house as befitted the women of a high class Bengali family. More so, as her cousin Raj, about as old as her, can come and go as he pleases. Even more so, as her mother seems to slip into the traditional role of a younger daughter-in-law effortlessly, and expects the girls to toe the line.
At such a stressful time, Asha takes refuge in her secret diary, one that she writes all her feelings and problems in. Feelings that sometimes threaten to overwhelm her as she grows up, that she can no longer freely express, where girls are to be seen and not heard. She goes through the days in the hope that Baba, her father, would soon find a job and take them away from all of it, to a place where she would have the freedom to pursue her dreams of a university education.
Until things go seriously wrong. What happens? And how do Asha, Reet, and their mother handle the situation?
Mitali Perkins has written a wonderfully nuanced story that teenagers will certainly enjoy. She has woven in the political changes in the background, (the time Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, declared a state of Emergency) and traditional family life in India a few decades back, that treated girls differently from boys - it is so even now in many places - deftly intermingled with the narrative, with a strong female protagonist.
Images courtesy flipkart.