Meandering through Middle Grade: Running On the Roof of the World…

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meandering-through-middle-grade

Today’s book is one that was an unexpected winner for me and highlights once again the plight of those forced from their homes due to political unrest.  We received Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Join 12-year-old Tash and her best friend Sam in a story of adventure, survival and hope, set in the vivid Himalayan landscape of Tibet and India. Filled with friendship, love and courage, this young girl’s thrilling journey to save her parents is an ideal read for children aged 9-12.

There are two words that are banned in Tibet. Two words that can get you locked in prison without a second thought. I watch the soldiers tramping away and call the words after them. ‘Dalai Lama.’

Tash has to follow many rules to survive in Tibet, a country occupied by Chinese soldiers. But when a man sets himself on fire in protest and soldiers seize Tash’s parents, she and her best friend Sam must break the rules. They are determined to escape Tibet – and seek the help of the Dalai Lama himself in India.

And so, with a backpack of Tash’s father’s mysterious papers and two trusty yaks by their side, their extraordinary journey across the mountains begins.

running on the roof of the world

I was somewhat hesitant going in to this book, simply because stories about child refugees having to flee their homes are by their nature, sad and distressing, and given what’s going on in the world at the moment, I can get a bit hand-shy of books that are too real in that regard.  Thankfully, Butterworth manages the story of Tash and Sam with great control so that while the dangers and sadness are apparent at every step, they aren’t so prominent as to overwhelm the reader.  In fact, Running on the Roof of the World is a remarkably accessible book for young readers who are interested in real life events and what’s going on outside their own bubble, written in a tone that is both moving and dignified.

Tashi’s parents are part of the secret resistance against the Chinese occupation of their village in Tibet.  After seeing a man set himself on fire in protest of the occupation, Tashi is shocked and awakened to the danger that is coming toward her own family.  After a surprise visit from the Chinese police, Tashi and her best friend Sam find themselves in a desperate dash away from the village, carrying a coded message from Tashi’s father and the resistance…a message they don’t know how to read or to whom it should be delivered.

The beauty of the book is in the simplicity and authenticity of the children’s journey.  After leaving their home in abrupt and unprepared circumstances, Tashi and Sam have one goal – cross the mountain pass into India and reach the Dalai Lama.  The simple acts of avoiding patrolling soldiers, moving from one spot to another and deciding who they can trust, all against the background fear of what might have befallen Tashi’s parents, feel very immediate throughout the book and heighten the suspense of the story.  The chapters are quite short, which made it easy to take the “just one more” approach and dig deeper into the story.  I also loved the mandala-style illustrations that adorn each chapter heading.

While the story eventually has a happy ending, it’s not without loss and trial and Butterworth does well to capture the uncertainty of the life of those seeking refuge in a way that young readers can appreciate.  I feel like this is a story that will stay with me for quite a while and not least because it deals with an occupied territory that is somewhat forgotten or just accepted in the West.

I would highly recommend this book as a classroom read aloud or simply as an engaging and moving story of two children alone in a hostile environment.  Having passed some time between reading the book and writing this review, I think Running on the Roof of the World deserves to be a Top Book of 2017 pick, because of its authentic tone and relevance to world events.

top-book-of-2017-pick-button

I’m submitting this book for the Popsugar Reading Challenge in category #45: a book about an immigrant or refugee.  You can check out my progress toward my reading challenges for the year here.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

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The Bone Sparrow: 100 Books Coming Your Way This Book Week! #read4refugees #openbooksopenminds

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It’s Children’s Book Week here in Australia and I have an beautiful, timely and confronting book to present to you today, as well as an invitation to join in with those using their voices to speak on behalf of those who are being silenced.  The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon highlights the shocking mistreatment and abuse of asylum seekers and refugees who have arrived in Australia by boat and are currently incarcerated in indefinite offshore detention.  The story, though difficult to read at times, is aimed at the 9-12 year old age bracket and sensitively brings to the fore the plight of these forgotten people.  This Book Week, we on the Shelf aim to speak our opposition to successive Australian Governments’ abuse of these individuals’ human rights.  But more of that in a minute.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

 Sometimes, at night, the dirt outside turns into a beautiful ocean. As red as the sun and as deep as the sky. I lie in my bed, Queeny’s feet pushing up against my cheek, and listen to the waves lapping at the tent.

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The night sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

The most vivid story of all, however, is the one that arrives one night in the form of Jimmie, a scruffy, impatient girl who appears from the other side of the wires, and brings a notebook written by the mother she lost. Unable to read it, she relies on Subhi to unravel her own family’s love songs and tragedies.

Subhi and Jimmie might both find a way to freedom, as their tales unfold. But not until each of them has been braver than ever before.

In 2002, veteran Australian children’s author Morris Gleitzman published the Boy Overboard/Girl Underground duology, that dealt directly with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, with reference to the Tampa incident and then-Prime Minister John Howard’s seminal “We Will Decide” speech that swept his government back into power on the back of fabricated stories designed to villify those seeking our help.  Fourteen years on, and if anything, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has become far worse.

It is in this political and humanitarian climate that we find Subhi, innocent victim one country’s irrational fear of difference, and pawn in a sick political race to the bottom on human rights.  Fraillon has done a remarkable job of writing Subhi as an authentic young boy, full of ideas, arguments with his sister, hopes for his future and a taste for adventure.  The other young characters in the camp – Eli and Queeny – are complex and encapsulate the fight between growth and stagnation that is going on for these young teens who, in any other circumstance, would be testing their boundaries, experimenting with identity and making plans for their futures.  The “Jackets” or security staff at Subhi’s camp are also a varied bunch, with even the good guys demonstrating divided loyalties and the natural desire to protect themselves from recrimination.

Suffused into the tale, and reflected in the form of stories from a book owned by Jimmie, is a sense of hope: that despite the overwhelming evidence that these people are invisible and forgotten, Someday they will be free.

This is meant to be a children’s book – a children’s book about difficult and important topics, certainly, but a children’s book.

But stuff that.

If you are an adult above voting age, read this book.

If you are a teen with a thirst for information and a desire to know what’s going on outside your social bubble, read this book.

If you are a person with any sense of common decency, read this book.

If you are an Australian, read this damn book.

Then pass it on to your mates and make them read it.

And to the Australian government: for fuck’s sake, close the bloody camps.

An Invitation For Children’s Book Week

We shelf denizens are proud to say we do not sit on the fence when the abuse of human rights are concerned and for that reason we are inviting you to be part of a super fun and cheeky mission in your local area this book week, August 20-26th.

Mums 4 Refugees, a grassroots advocacy and support group made up entirely of ordinary mothers who give more than two hoots about how asylum seekers are treated in this country, are planning a National Book Drop and would love you to join in!  Here’s the skinny:

This Children’s Book Week, find stories of hope in unexpected places.

#read4refugees #openbooksopenminds

Members of grass roots advocacy group Mums 4 Refugees are taking stories of hope and survival, inspired by refugees and those seeking asylum, into their communities by participating in a national “book drop”.

Mothers across Australia will be joining this national campaign to raise awareness of refugee issues by leaving books focusing on the stories of refugees and asylum seekers in public and high profile locations across Australia. We hope that members of the public will embrace the week as an opportunity to learn more about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia and worldwide.

To help us out in Book Drop, Hachette Australia kindly (and with an admirable willingness!) provided Mums 4 Refugees with 100 copies of The Bone Sparrow to drop during the week in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide!!  

If that weren’t enough, there will be 10 copies of YA new release When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah dropped in Brisbane thanks to PanMacmillan Australia! 

when michael met mina

Author of Ziba Came on a Boat, Liz Lofthouse, is also getting behind the action, donating copies of her CBCA Shortlisted picture book for dropping! 

ziba

If you would like to join the action, there is a public Facebook Event Page here, where you can upload pictures of books you have dropped or found.  If you are wondering what books might be suitable, here is a list:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS:
The Little Refugee (Anh Do)
Refugees (David Miller)
Ziba Came on a Boat (Liz Lofthouse)
Boy Overboard (Morris Gleitzman)
Girl Underground (Morris Gleitzman)

Plum Puddings and Paper Moons (Glenda Millard)
Home and Away (John Marsden)
Flight (Nadia Wheatley)
Rainbow Bird (Czenya Cavouras)

YOUNG ADULT FICTION:
The Bone Sparrow (Zana Fraillon)
When Michael Met Mina (Randa Abdel-Fattah)
Soraya the Storyteller (Rosanne Hawke)
The Arrival (Shaun Tan)
Jumping to Heaven (Katherine Goode)

ADULT NON FICTION:
The Happiest Refugee (Anh Do)
Walking Free (Munjed Al Muderis)
Lives in Limbo (Michael Leach & Fethi Mansouri)

If you would like to drop a book, you can stick this bookplate inside the front cover:

M4R bookplate

So join in if you can, share the action if you can, tell others, and make this Book Week a week of action for change!

Yours in hope,

Bruce