Review Blog

Apr 02 2013

Meet Lina by Sally Rippin

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Ill. by Lucia Masciullo. Puffin Books, 2013. ISBN 9780143307006. pbk., 132pp., RRP $A14.95.
(Age: 8-11) Melbourne, 1956. While the city might have been abuzz with the impending Olympic Games, they are not Lina's main concern. As the only daughter of strict, traditional Italian parents who have come to Australia to escape the aftermath of war-torn Europe, Lina has won a scholarship to an exclusive Catholic girls' school. But she feels she is from the wrong side of the tracks and is struggling to feel that she belongs. She is ashamed of her humble parents and her home, and goes to considerable lengths to hide them.
But she is a budding writer and after sharing a story she has written at an assembly, the spotlight falls on her. People appreciate her for her story-telling skills, but the event is soured by the lie she told her father and the criticism of Sarah Buttersworth whose nose is out of joint because her former friend Mary has now taken Lina under her wing, and that's a social step too far for Sarah. 'Nice story', she said, smiling stiffly. 'Though I was surprised you live in Carlton.' However, a stolen afternoon at Mary's where she is overwhelmed by the wealth and possessions, sparks an idea that starts to turn life around for Lina. But it also brings its share of complications that lead to an unexpected situation.
This is the first of this mini-series within the larger series of Our Australian Girl, a series which features a girl like me in a time gone by. There are 18 books in the series, with each character having several books to tell her story. While Lina's story was engaging, I would have liked to have had the others available to make the story complete - while the ending sets up the next story, it really needs that next story there. But perhaps that's an adult perspective and young girls will wait eagerly (and more patiently) for the next installment.
The series itself aims to encourage a new generation to discover our history and culture in all its diversity, and to celebrate the independence of spirit that we treasure as Australians and its publication is timely considering the rollout of the History strand of the national curriculum over the next few years (not till 2016 in primary schools in NSW). Historical fiction is a great way to take students out of their world into new ones and this book offers a number of opportunities for that. For example, despite its appeal to girls, within the story Lina and Mary make a magazine of the times and so that could become a group activity that would require a lot of research, writing and presentation skills that would engage all students. It could also provide opportunities for students to talk to their grandparents and explore and understand the value of oral histories. There could also be activities which compare and contrast schooling then and now - I'm sure many modern eyes would be raised! Such assignments help students understand the context of the times and the novel, a critical element if they are to appreciate it fully.
The website provides a lot of information about the other characters who feature in the series, as well as reviews, activities, author information and extracts to entice. Based on Meet Lina and what I've read of the others in this series, I think it will be a winner . . . just what the 8-11 year olds are demanding.
Barbara Braxton

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