Australian. What makes you be an Australia?
Australia is a diverse land with diverse people with varied histories and stories.
Title: I’m Australian Too
Author: Mem Fox
Illustrator: Ronojoy Ghosh
ISBN: 9781760276218 Language: English
Themes: immigration, refugees, history
What’s it about?
A set of unnamed individuals tells the reader how it is they are Australian – from those born here to those who immigrated or came as refugees.
The book has a nice rhyme going on which is easy to pick up and follow. It features a range of diverse people from various backgrounds. The illustrations are bright and colourful.
This one is short-listed for the Book of the Year: Early Childhood in the CBCA’s Book Week 2018. I’m not quite sure where to start with this review but perhaps with my “Hmmm” comment in the Beware section. I had issues trying to word exactly what is was that made me feel…cynical…about this book and the best word that comes to mind is – contrived. I’m all for diversity and multiculturalism but at the same time it needs to come across as authentic and this book (for me at least) is trying to too hard and missing the point.
Okay so as I was reading this story I was reminded of a conversation with a student I had years ago. The boy had been in Australia a matter of weeks, barely spoke any English, and he was given the task “What it means to be Australian” – something I still struggle to answer myself.
This book focuses a lot on where you live is what makes you Australian – eg. no matter where you were born if you’re here now then you’re an Aussie. I take issue with this though as I know many who may identify as being Australian but also still identify as being British, Somoan, Afghani, etc. To me saying where you live makes you “Australian” just doesn’t sound right – it’s too simplistic – too superficial. And while I’m looking at the ‘where’ it annoys me that the following places are mentioned: Sydney, Melbourne (x2), Ballarat, Darwin, Humpty Doo, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Canberra…So what do you notice (besides Melbourne getting mentioned twice?)? Well, with the exception of Ballarat and Humpty Doo ALL the others are capital cities. I have no idea why when people write books about Australia there is always such a focus on the big capital cities – a lot of immigrants and refugees have settled in regional and rural locations and yet…I don’t know…it feels like we’re all over-looked.
Another facet of this book I take issue with is that so many of the reasons for coming to Australia are negative-positive…For example: Ireland – potato famine (though you’ll need to know your history as it only says 1849 and “a million hungry people died”), Lebanon – “fled a war”, Somalia – “torn by strife”, Afghanistan – “fled when I was small”, Syria – “we had to flee”…there were many others who move to Australia for non-war/conflict related reasons – and only Italy and Greece were not in the aforementioned category. I don’t like how it sounds like moving to Australia was some magic transformation for those who came and they experience none of the sadness or violence – let’s face it – Australia isn’t perfect.
Other lines that rubbed me the wrong way included “We open doors to strangers; Yes, everyone’s a friend” – in this current climate I certainly don’t see door open to strangers and neither do I see people being treated as a “friend”. Perhaps this is where the superficial-side of the book just doesn’t sit well. I know this book is aimed at kids but if you’re going to mention people dying, strife, and fleeing – then I think there needs to be more balance.
My view of this book is pretty clear at this point – it’s not one I would read to my children and neither would I use it in the classroom. I feel that the Australian identity is much deeper than just living here.