Review Blog

Jun 13 2017

May Tang: a new Australian by Katrina Beikoff

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Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781742990743
(Age: 10+) Recommended. China, Tiananmen Square, History. When the Tiananmen Square incident occurred in 1989, those looking for change in China were dismayed. None more so than May's family, living in Shanghai with their son studying in Australia. May's mother had been sent from university to work as a labourer on a rice farm during the infamous Cultural Revolution, and she and her husband want a different life for their children. They make the heart breaking decision to send May and her mother to Australia to join their son, applying for protection because, as an activist, he cannot return home. May's life is turned inside out as she must leave her father and her friends, her grandfather and his singing bird to go somewhere totally alien.
The first part of the book gives a strong background for the story. Readers will sympathise with the decision made by the parents in a time of uncertainty, and appreciate the Australian government's decision to allow families of Chinese students already here, to emigrate. They may also compare that government's decision with the decisions being made today about refugees risking all to get here. Our response to both groups is totally different.
The latter part of the book shows May's efforts to acclimatise to her new country. She has learnt English and must translate for her mother while their brother is away picking cherries to earn money to support them. She must go to school and here she comes up against mindless racism, telling her she needs to fit in to become a real Australian. Her mother gains employment packing at a local bakery and the baker, finding they are from Shanghai, gives her some pork bones to make him pork dumplings, a childhood memory of when he lived there.
An easy to read story, May is an endearing character whose tale will intrigue the readers, learning more of the reasons behind people's decisions to emigrate to Australia, in this excellent series, A New Australian. Their life in China is well captured and the reasons for the family's ill ease at staying in China explained well for middle school students. The book reflects the situation in Australia as well, with its suspicion of difference. This series portrays the reasons behind people's migration to Australia beautifully, engaging the most cynical of readers and broadening their vision of Australia's rich and varied heritage.
Fran Knight

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