Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 23, 2021

The Year the Maps Changed, by Danielle Binks

Some readers will remember my unrestrained excitement when I posted about being able to attend a ‘real’ literary event, the Port Fairy Literary Weekend.  That was back in June when Melburnians were tentatively venturing forth after months of Covid restrictions, and we also had plans to go to the Yarra Valley Writers Festival in July.  It was too good to last, and the Yarra Valley festival quickly pivoted online when the restrictions were back, so the brief luxury of the face-to-face Port Fairy LitFest will have to sustain me for a while to come.  (Though I am at the moment working my way through the virtual offerings at the Edinburgh Festival and the Mildura Literary Festival and enjoying them a great deal.*

The Importance of festivals and author talks is that a personable author talking about her book can be the catalyst for the decision to read it or not.  I used to read heaps of middle-grade novels when I was a teacher-librarian… Knowing your stock is an essential element in enticing the reluctant reader and over the last ten years of my career, I made a point of reading 2-3 children’s novels each week. I liked them, especially when they respected the intelligence of their audience and tackled complex issues.  But in retirement I put that aside and devoted myself to reading adult novels — so I would probably never have come across The Year the Maps Changed if I hadn’t gone to the Port Fairy festival and heard Danielle Binks talk about it in a session about historical fiction for children.

What prompted me to buy the book was that it was about a topic dear to my heart, Australia’s treatment of refugees. The Year the Maps Changed is set in a year of a child’s life, in 1999 when a group of Kosovo-Albanian refugees was brought to a ‘safe haven’ at the old Quarantine Station at Point Nepean. My memory of this time was that the government represented by Philip Ruddock was shamed by the international community into taking some of these refugees, and that as soon as they could, they cynically declared Kosovo safe and returned the refugees, by fair means or foul.  Danielle reminded us that these events may seem like just yesterday to some of us, to the young people reading this book, it is not just so last century, it is actually history.

The central character is Fred, a.k.a. Winnie and Winifred.  She’s 12, in her last year of primary school, and she is struggling to find her place in her blended family.  This is the blurb:

Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.

But even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in way that no one could have expected.

It is a children’s book and so the book traverses issues of interest to children, such as the devastation of being quietly abandoned by her BFF in the playground and getting into trouble with parents and teachers who don’t know the full story.  But of interest to any adult — because we all come into contact with children when they are grieving losses — is the way that Danielle depicts Fred’s confusion as she navigates the way this new family seems to have displaced her old one.  The chapter where Fred feels guilty for a family tragedy because she briefly wished for it, is delicately handled, and it’s a perfect opening for dialogue with children about how they tend to blame themselves in this self-destructive way.

It’s well-known in education circles that ‘boys won’t read books about girls’ but I don’t think this would be a problem in a book where Fred is such a forceful character, active and strong and mainly hanging out with boys who acknowledge her leadership.  Children in the middle years are very interested in ideas about fairness and justice, but I have no doubt that people of all ages will value discussing the way that The Year the Maps Changed explores ideas about developing your moral compass and acknowledging the complexity of doing the right thing by doing something illegal. 

To conclude, I’ll quote from Mr Khouri’s discussion with his class about the how the Quarantine Station was used in the past:

‘If the ship had death and disease, they’d raise a yellow flag to signal plague and for locals to stay away and not to expect the supplies any time soon.  And then everyone on board would be ferried from the boat to the shore.  If you were found to have a disease, you went off to the isolation ward — right next to the morgue.  Your bedding and luggage might be burnt, boiled or disinfected, your clothing gassed to kill any insects and disease.’

The children are horrified.

‘It was all necessary, of course.  It staved off countless more deaths, but… new immigrants didn’t have much say in it all.  It was for the greater good.’

The greater good.  Something we have all had to grapple with as our individual freedoms have been constrained because of the pandemic…

Author: Danielle Binks
Title: The Year the Maps Changed
Cover design: Astrid Hicks, Design Cherry
Publisher: Lothian, Hachette, 2020
ISBN: 9780734419712, pbk., 310 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased at the Port Fairy Literary Weekend from Blarney’s Books and Art, $17.99


For access which starts at $15, sessions at the Mildura Literary Festival include:

New Voice: Paul Kane presents the Tina Kane Emergent Writer Award to Taonga Sendama
The Anarchist Poet: Pi O in conversation with Christos Tsiolkas
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree with Shokoofeh Azar interviewed by Nic Brasch
Cultural Leader: Wesley Enoch in conversation with Fiona Blair
Judith Nangala Crispin: poetry
Sensing Food: Alice Zaslavsky in conversation with Stefano de Pieri
Imaginative Possession: Belinda Probert interviewed by Upswell publisher Terri-ann White
The Murray Talk 2021 Judith Nangala Crispin: Talking to Country

 

 

 


Responses

  1. I appreciated this review. Many years ago I too was a teacher-librarian and experienced a similar enthusiasm for ‘young adult’ literature. The very term, ‘young adult’ was relatively new and I’m glad that the subject matter has now expanded beyond the ‘shock horror’ of Judy Blume to deal with other issues.

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    • Hello Ros, how lovely to hear from you!
      I must admit that my teacher-brain kicked in as I was reading… I was imagining reading it to one of my Year 5-6 classes and discussing so many issues with them. One I haven’t mentioned in my review because it’s not a dominant issue, is the grandfather’s future. He has a fall and is in hospital for a while, but when he comes home, what is his future going to be? So many of us grapple with that problem both for our own loved ones whether near or far away, but also for ourselves. And while my relationship with my grandparents was only by correspondence across the seas, I know from my own son’s f2f relationship with his grandparents that it’s a very precious thing and that worrying about them would weigh heavily on a child’s mind.

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  2. Have just finished Omar El Akkad’s new novel, What Strange Paradise, which deals with a child’s experience (and, another’s observation of it) of this process. Such powerful stories.

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    • I admire the child’s clarity about the morality of the decisions that are made about refugees. Maybe some of the young people who read this book will grow up into more empathetic and humane adults.

      Like


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