China, Shanghai – 1989. Protests by university students lead to unrest. Events in China change May’s life forever when she and her Mama move to Australia to seek safety and make a new home.
Title: May Tang
Series: A New Australian
Author: Katrina Beikoff
ISBN: 9781742990743 Language: English with Mandarin keywords
Classification: Fiction with historical events
Themes: future, history, China, immigration
What’s it about?
Based in 1989 this is the story of May Tang and how a single event in China changed the course of her life. Her older brother is away living in Australia studying when the events of 1989, the protests that led to several hundred people losing their lives, occur leaving May’s family concerned for their safety and future. It is decided that May and her Mama will go to Australia to seek to become permanent Australian citizens. May has to leave her father, older sister, and grandfather behind to start again in Australia. Upon arriving in Australia May struggles to fit in – she is bullied at school and avoids others. Her mother successfully finds employment which helps to cover expenses but May feels lonely and disconnected with Australia.
This book deals with actual historical events which have been sensitively included. May’s character is easy to relate to as are her struggles to fit in at her new school. There is a good balance of dialogue and description and this helps the book to keep on flowing so you do want to know what happens to her.
While based on historical events there isn’t a lot of detail given about the events – especially those in China.
This book is featured in the Notables List for the CBCA’s Book Week 2018 in the Younger Readers category. I must say that I did actually enjoy reading this book. It was an easy read and having been a child of the 80s it did bring back memories of the importance of a fluro scrunchie!
May is a well developed character who many students will be able to relate to. Her struggles to fit in because she is still learning English, because she doesn’t wear the ‘right’ clothes, because she doesn’t eat the ‘right’ food…oh yes, many kids and adults can relate to her experience. I also want to specifically mention the bullying aspect in this book. All too often I read a book that has a bully and low-and-behold they are the popular white-skinned, blond-haired, blue eyed, rich girl – it has become a rather annoying bully stereotype. The author, Katrina, however has managed to portray what I would say is a much more realistic persona of the bully. In this book the bully is Lisa and May struggles to understand why the one girl who looks like her (Lisa is a first generation Australia) would lead the charge to make fun of her. This small detail about Lisa really is an important one to show that a bully can be anyone in the school – even those you are most like. So a special mention here for the work the author put in to developing Lisa’s character as well.
The Australian Curriculum does love to encourage books that connect this generation of students to Asia – one of our closest neighbours. If using this book in the classroom I would definitely be recommending that there would be a need to expand on the events of 1989 – they are mentioned in this book but I feel to get a better feelings for the urgency behind May’s father deciding she would leave for Australia that. The student protests and subsequent reaction by the Government led to much violence and to the event in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. Even now watching footage of the “Tank Man” sends a chill down my spine showing the power of what one person can achieve with a whole bucket load of courage. Of course, with such topics you would need to consider the maturity and age of your class before delving deeply into this topic but it is surely one that would prompt much discussion from the class.
But back to May’s story…this book mentions other important details in Australian history including Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s decision to allow asylum seekers from China (including students already in Australia) to apply for permanent residency for fear of persecution should they return home.
Economics are also a focus of this story. The need for May’s mother to get a job is a top priority as the 80s and early 90s saw the cost of living in Australia sky-rocket with high-interest rates in particular. This impact was felt even more in the big cities such as Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. With May’s mother working as well as Peter, May’s brother, it would still have been a bit of a struggle to pay the bills and ‘live’ – so to speak. Again the author has dealt with this topic beautifully and accurately.
Overall, this is a great read and has possibilities for a full literacy unit covering other curriculum areas as well. I highly recommend this one and hope to see it on the Short List for Book Week 2018.