Today, I found myself in the position of reading John Marsden's picture book 'Home and Away' to a small group of Year 5 students. I have to admit, before I go any further with this post that I have never been a huge fan of Mr. Marsden's writing. I applaud him because he tackles difficult subjects in his writing, and looking at his sales figures and multitude of loyal fans, he must be doing something right. But I honestly just don't get him.
Home and Away deals with the issue of refugees by placing the reader in the position of thinking, 'What if there was a war in Australia and we had to flee and leave ourselves to the mercy of authorities in a neighbouring country.'
I can see where he was going with the premise but to me, it seemed overdone. More importantly, the kids didn't get it! And I had to explain to them what the story was about. The book didn't spark questions from the kids about how we treat the refugees coming to Australia and it didn't leave me feeling outraged at our treatment of refugees. It just left me feeling dark. Sure, the kids said how bad it would be if we had a war and had to flee from Australia but they didn't connect with the issue.
If the aim of the books is to enlighten children to the plight of refugees, I think the shock value of the story actually detracted from those issues.
Last year, I read Gabiann Marin's picture book, 'A True Person' which also deals with the plight of refugees fleeing a war torn country to find a new life somewhere safe. Like 'Home and Away' it is written from the perspective of a child refugee and deals with hardships, fear and questions why Zallah and her family were forced into a detention centre. But that is where the similarities end.
I found I had a much greater emotional connection to 'A True Person' It was written with hope and compassion. It left me with a much greater empathy toward the circumstances of refugees than 'Home and Away'
I know comparing the two books it is a lot like comparing apples to oranges. But for me, sorry John, I'll take the oranges.