Tag Archives: Zana Fraillon

The ones that disappeared

Unlike the Rohingya refugees that you can at least see, however awful their reality, there are others whose fates are not worse, maybe, but they are invisible. Or so it seems.

Zana Fraillon has written a story about three children, presumably sold into slavery by their [unaware] families. Or they were simply picked up from a problematic situation after some disaster or other.

I’d have liked knowing where Zana’s The ones that disappeared is set. But perhaps it makes no difference. This kind of thing exists in many places, and this way no one is excluded.

Zana Fraillon, The ones that disappeared

The children manage to escape, but that only sets in motion new problems. They are illegals, and they are frightened, not to mention hungry and cold and tired, and they don’t know who to trust. When one of them is split from the others, they meet another child; not a slave, but a boy with concerns of his own.

The reader follows the children as they try to make the best of a bad situation. This is a children’s book and you’d want, even expect, a solution to the dire circumstances they are in. But how realistic would that be? And we know that life is rarely perfect.

Will the injured child die? Will any of the others? There would appear to be no responsible adults anywhere, and children need those if things are to normalise.

It’s inspiring, not to mention astounding, to see how capable such young children are. Can be. Have to be. And then you realise how impossible the situation is. There are slaves like them everywhere, controlled by bad adults who lie to them.

While the rest of us don’t see them, even when they are right there under our noses.

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Stories for empathy and a better world

I had been looking forward to the event with Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai on Saturday. I’d never met Miriam before, but she was everything I had expected, and Bali was Bali as usual. Empathy is important and it promised to be an interesting discussion.

Bali Rai and Miriam Halahmy

We were all asked for examples of empathic children’s books that had made a difference to us. I can see the point of asking the audience, but it split my attention a bit too much. Miriam is a big fan of Morris Gleitzman and talked about his Blabbermouth, and Bali suggested Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. President Obama’s talk about the ’empathy deficit’ was mentioned.

Miriam read from The Emergency Zoo, and explained how she loses herself in the book when she writes. She is her characters.

Bali then read from The Harder They Fall, apologising for some ‘rude’ words. When he started writing about a female character, it took him some time to understand that girls are ‘just’ people. He talked about how many poor teenagers never even consider going to university. Sometimes because they are the main carer for someone in their family, and they can’t contemplate getting into debt.

On getting started Miriam reckoned the most important thing she did as a child was to read. After that it was being a teacher, doing a writing course, and reading and meeting people like Morris Gleitzman and Jacqueline Wilson. The best thing about writing is losing yourself in the writing.

Roald Dahl was a hero of Bali’s, and he liked reading about Vikings and volcanoes. Later on Sue Townsend played a big part influencing him. Bali described his hard-working colleague Alan Gibbons, who travels and writes and campaigns tirelessly for good causes. The best thing about being a writer seems to be ‘vomiting [words] on a page.’

Can you understand the world if you read escapism? Miriam believes in a real place and a real boy or girl. Bali feels that in The Lord of the Rings the whole world is escapism, and he listed Andy Stanton for sheer bounciness, had nothing [positive] to say about David Walliams, and it seems the archetypal white man comedian comes from Stockport. He praised the way Jacqueline Wilson writes about hard work and ordinary children. And there’s Siobhan Dowd and Patrick Ness.

Someone in the audience had problems seeing how fantasy could be empathic, but discovered Miriam and Bali disagreed. To make children understand empathy we don’t need it on the curriculum, and there is no right age. According to Miriam you can’t suddenly ‘do empathy today,’ but you need to embed it more deeply. For Bali it’s economical politics in this dog eat dog world. And you should be allowed to have fun at school, because how else do you get to write about fish zombies?

As with letting school-children have enough time for fun, I’d have liked more time for the two authors at Saturday’s event.

Miranda McKearney, Anna Bassi, Miriam Halahmy and Bali Rai

Save the Rohingya

Looking back at my review from earlier this summer of Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow, I was ashamed to see I didn’t even mention the Rohingya. Maybe I felt the name would be meaningless to most Westerners, or perhaps I decided it was the basics of the situation for the refugees in the book which mattered.

I can’t even remember. But I did remember the name Rohingya, so when it turned up in the news more recently, I realised it was more active as a problem again.

The young boy in Zana’s book is Rohingya, and as Zana describes it, they ‘are an ethnic Muslim minority living in a predominantly Buddhist majority in Myanmar.’ The United Nations and Amnesty International say the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted people on earth.

Did any of us know that?

The government of Myanmar is committing genocide, with the Rohingya being hunted into extinction. And governments all over the world know this. The Rohingya have been known to be forced onto boats, or killed if they refused.

That’s why Subhi and his family in The Bone Sparrow are in a refugee camp. As Zana says in her afterword, she wishes her ‘book had never needed to be written.’ How I wish that too.

And reading about how this is a known situation to people in power, it’s not surprising that no one much raised a finger when Hitler did what he did to the Jews 70 years ago. It might seem easier not to interfere. We used to blame this kind of thing on people not knowing. Now we have to look on as a formerly admired Nobel peace prize winner does nothing for the persecuted people in her own country. But she does know.

‘understanding doesn’t fix it’

It’s on page 158 of Zana Fraillon’s The Bone Sparrow. The quote above about how ‘understanding doesn’t fix it.’ It’s one of the most chilling phrases I’ve read. Because it’s true. Just because we might actually understand what the dreadful things in the world today are, doesn’t mean they can – or will be – fixed. And they must be.

Zana Fraillon, The Bone Sparrow

Born in an immigration detention centre, Subhi is at least 22 fence diamonds high (and around ten years old). Unlike most of the people in there with him, he’s known no different and has little idea of the world outside. He is a bit of a dreamer and a storyteller, and rather naïve, but also true and brave.

His mother and older sister are there with him, and his best friend Eli. There is one friendly guard, and Subhi has a rubber duck he talks to. The rubber duck talks back, and is occasionally rather wise.

Based on information from many such centres in Australia, this story rings true. Awful, but true.

One day Subhi makes a new friend, Jimmie, a girl living not far from the camp. Their friendship teaches both of them something new, and the reader hopes, a little. It’s a beautiful friendship, but the ugly reality has a way of interfering with most that’s good.

The Bone Sparrow is sweet and wonderful, but possibly the saddest ‘camp’ book I’ve read. Not necessarily the cruellest as regards what happens. But the worst, because I can see no hope.

We’ve come a long way from Anne Holm’s I Am David. The wrong long way.

Bookwitch bites #140

The London Book Fair was last week. There was plenty to tempt, but very little time and energy on my part, so I’ll hold out until some other year. The family was represented by Son, who sleepered south one night and sleepered back north the next night. In between all that ‘sleeping’ I imagine he did book-related work. So many people were there, and I have actually not asked him who he saw, but I do know he met up with/ran into Daniel Hahn.

Daniel did lots of things at LBF, most of which I’ve no idea what they were. (If you feel this is looking like me telling you very little, then you are right. I am.) I understand there was an event with Son’s colleague, fellow translator Guy Puzey. I’d hazard a guess they talked about translations.

Daniel Hahn radio

While on the subject of Mr Hahn, there was a piece on the radio the other week, where he talked about Good Books.

The Carnegie shortlist has been announced, and that has good books too. Mal Peet is on there, with Meg Rosoff, as are Glenda Millard, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Zana Fraillon and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Carnegie shortlist 2017

Damien Love who self-published his exciting book Like Clockwork a few years ago, now has a fantastic book deal in the US where it will be published some time in 2018 as Monstrous Devices.

Damien US deal

And finally, Debi Gliori tells the world about my marvellous baking skills in a recent blog post on her new blog. It’s very sweet of her. If I didn’t know what a great baker she herself is, I’d say she’s too easily impressed. In fact, I think I’ll say that anyway. Too easily impressed.

But you know, it’s not every culinary attempt of mine that ends up having a professional portrait made of itself.

Semla by Debi Gliori