A different boy by Paul Jennings
Ill. by Geoff Kelly. Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760523503
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. Themes: Orphans, Migration, Family. Before Anton's father died he told his son that if he was ever in a bad deal, to "get out of it and move on". And so Anton does, in many situations in this book which will bring shivers to the hearts of many readers. When Anton's mother dies he is sent to an orphanage that is Dickensian in its treatment of its inmates. But Anton's father's words ring in his ears, and he walks out, headed for the ship he sees in the distance, about to leave England's shores for Australia, the land of warmth and sunshine that he craves. He cannot find a way to get onto the ship but a teenage boy standing by the gangplank takes him as his friend and the steward thinking they are traveling together hurries the pair onto the ship. Here he stays on deck and once it becomes dark, another steward takes him down stairs back to the woman and boy he met on the gangway and there he is befriended.
They too have secrets and in return for his friendship with her special son, the woman gives Anton a place within her family. Anton is relieved that all he has to do is care for the special boy and takes him around the ship pointing out features he will need to know. But an event happens which shows the bravery of the boy and all ends happily, although as usual with a twist on the last page that will have readers nodding with recognition.
This engrossing tale of friendship, of secrets, of longing to be part of a family, will bring a few tears to the eyes of the most hard-hearted of readers, as they recognise the need within us all to belong. And along the way, the importance of learning to read.
A wonderful read aloud, this little book (102 pages) will engender much discussion in the classroom about migration, sea travel, orphanages and reading. Jennings tells a beautiful story with panache: its brevity and empathy engaging all of his readers in a story they can recognise, but one that will also surprise them.