Review Blog

Nov 04 2011

The little refugee by Ahn Do and Suzanne Do

cover image

Ill. by Bruce Whatley. Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 978 1 74237 832 9.
(Ages 6+) Recommended. Picture book. Subtitled The inspiring true story of Australia's happiest refugee, Ahn Do's story of his early life in Australia comes hot on the heels of his memoir, The happiest refugee (Allen and Unwin, 2010) His memoir is an amazing story of his life from being born in Vietnam, to the family's escape on a fishing boat, coming to Australia, then his life as a school boy, uni student, finally becoming a standup comedian, marrying and becoming a father. This memoir, told in his own unflappable, dry style, is recreated here in a a picture book format, with stunning illustrations by Bruce Whatley. The story is shortened to the family's time in Vietnam and their boat trip across the seas to Australia, then finding their feet in this new country. It is a story of courage and hope, of tenacity and family, and will have wide appeal, particularly as the debate about refugees continues.
But it is more than story about refugees, Ahn's tenacity is very obviously a trait that was passed down from his parents. The group on their boat survived storms and heat spells, lack of food and water, pirates who wanted to kill one of the children, and stole anything of value on the boat. When in Australia, they survived the theft of their sewing machines, bought to sew clothing to make a living. Ahn and his brother wore hand me down clothing from a charity, his brother being given girls' clothing to wear. They survived school, Ahn being made year 5 captain, making his parents very proud.
It is a story about hope, about keeping faith with the future, of knowing that the future is in the hands of the children, and offering them a solid start.
Whatley's illustrations are fascinating, beginning in brown sepia tones of the time in Vietnam and on the boat, then adding more colour as they settle into life in Australia. I was particularly struck by the illustrations of the group on the boat, the despair on their faces is awful to see, and the picture of the little boat being tossed about in the ocean, made me feel icily cold, although I could not see the logic in the wide eyed faces in much of the book. Students will have much to discuss when looking at life in Vietnam, or life on the boat, or the illustrations showing the Vietnam War, or the pirate coming aboard. Each offers a great deal of detail to discuss and think about.
Fran Knight

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