Asylum seekers and detention centres have been a constant topic in the news and public debate for some time in Australia, and are also appearing as the subject of some recent releases in children’s fiction.
One title that tells a sweet story while dealing with some hard issues is When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah. This YA book is a Romeo and Juliet style romance, with “Juliet” being Mina, an Afghanistani-born former detention centre resident, and “Romeo” being Michael, son of the founders of the new Aussie Values political party. The star-crossed lovers first encounter each other from opposing sides at a rally for refugees.
All sides of the debate on asylum seekers, border control and assimilation are covered in this very political story, with a spectrum of views presented sometimes in a thoughtful way, sometimes with humour (“They should shut the hell up and respect the fact they have free speech in this country.”).
Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow, recently longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2016, tells the story of Subhi, born in an Australian detention centre to a Rohingya refugee. He has known nothing of life except the detention centre, and dreams of what life is like outside. One night Jimmy, a girl from the outside, sneaks in through the wires to find out what life is really like there. The two children develop a friendship that gives them strength and courage.
Putting a familiar and popular face on asylum seekers is The Little Refugee, Anh Do’s picture book story of his family’s perilous escape by boat from Vietnam in 1980. The book was released in 2011, and was nominated for numerous awards. It’s simple text and emotional illustrations capture the fear and danger of their trip, with the pages becoming colourful to match the relief the Dho family feels when they find safety and a chance to build a new life in Australia.