I recently read Who Am I? The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 by Anita Heiss. The fictional diary of a 10-year-old Aboriginal girl taken from her family as part of the Stolen Generation, the book is written for children aged 10 or 11+.
I recommended the book to a friend who is a librarian for a primary school and her response was “we wouldn’t have a book about the Stolen Generation for our primary school students”.
I understand that the story of the Stolen Generation is a complex one and primary-school aged children are unlikely to be able to understand and/or process many of the political, social and historical issues involved. This book is specifically written for children in late primary school, however, and it deals with the issue from a more personal level that is appropriate and accessible.
Australia’s modern history is filled with stories that have confronting elements, yet these stories are available for students to read. Jackie French has written a wonderful series of books, the Animal Stars series, that includes stories of Australia’s involvement at Gallipoli and the ill-fated expedition of Burke and Wills. If these stories are acceptable for our children, I’m not sure that I understand why a book written about the Stolen Generation is not.
At times I am guilty of helicopter parent tendencies. It is sometimes hard to resist the temptation to shelter my children from the potential dangers and disappointments of the big bad world. I am also a firm believer in the phrase ‘knowledge is power’, however, and I have always tried to make sure my children are given every opportunity to understand the world they live in.
Do I wish that I never had to explain the Stolen Generation to my kids? Absolutely. I wish that it had never happened and that it wasn’t part of Australia’s history. Do I think my children should know about the Stolen Generation? Without a doubt.
I want them to understand that such things can happen when people choose to accept injustice simply because it is condoned by those in positions of authority. I want them to understand that the damage caused by such decisions can span generations and that even actions undertaken with the best intentions can cause hurt and confusion when the underlying assumptions are flawed.
I don’t think my children will come away from reading The Diary of Mary Talence fired up to fight social injustice. I do believe such books are part of web of information that gradually develops a social conscience however and I think this is a wonderful thing – that such information is available in a way that is age-appropriate. My children do have a sheltered and protected life and I think that such a life can lead to a very narrow view of the world if they aren’t made aware of the lives and stories and experiences of others that have lives different to their own.
Is 11 too young to read a story about the Stolen Generation (or refugees or terrorism or other socio-political issues)? How do you decide what issues and information you share with your children? Do you let them watch the news or read the newspaper? If so, do you discuss the things that they hear/read with them? I’d love to know what you think, so please leave a comment.
Book review of The Diary of Mary Talence by Anita Heiss at RUD