May 17

How Young is to Young?

The Diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 by Anita HeissI 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.

Related links:

Book review of The Diary of Mary Talence by Anita Heiss at RUD

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  1. Ronnica

    I think that that age is a great time to start talking about such things, though I think there should definitely be parental-involvement (e.g. reading it together or asking probing questions). I don’t have children, but I work with children that age at church. I don’t gloss over the unpleasantries, though I don’t go into all the details, either. Even with the 5 and 6-year-olds I teach Sunday school to, we do talk about war, murder, etc. as it comes up in the Bible, though I never go into the details and make it clear why so-and-so died (sin).
    .-= Ronnica´s last blog ..Womanly Quotes =-.

  2. Christy

    My son (almost 12) has the book Guantamano Boy which is about terrorism etc. Unfortunately he’s not a reader so hasn’t made much headway into it. But I think kids should be widely read so that they can make their own minds up about social issues. That is my two cents worth.

    1. Susan

      My sister is the kind of person that devours books and she said that she found Guantanamo Boy a little hard going – very confronting.

  3. Katrina Germein

    Primary School students range in age from 5 to 13 years so your friend’s comments scare me. How are our children to understand the issues facing Aussies today if we hide our history from them? With Aboriginal children still being removed in the 1970’s Australians are living with the consequences today.
    Books help young people to understand the world and its people. I believe a more frightening thought is that our children should reach High School completely ignorant of Australia’s history, or with a history we have censored for them.
    .-= Katrina Germein´s last blog ..More Things Not to Say to a Children’s Author =-.

  4. Suzie

    That’s the same as not telling your child about the Holocaust just because it could be upsetting. My kids learnt about the Holocaust from mid primary school, they learnt that some of their father’s family had escaped while others had not. This was dealt with in an age appropriate way.

    I would be worrying about your friend’s qualifications for her job. Either her qualifications or that her religious affiliation is interferring with her job.
    .-= Suzie´s last blog ..Kids, speech and learning =-.

  5. Susan

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I have always chatted with my children about important issues and I love finding books that introduce important topics, like the Stolen Generation, in a way that is age appropriate.

    I’m hoping that my friend simply misunderstood and didn’t realise that I was referring to a book that was written specifically for kids in late primary school. I’m planning to loan her my copy of The Diary of Mary Talence so that she can read it and make a more informed decision.

  6. Teresa

    I don’t understand the need of some white folk to want to edit or erase Aboriginal stories as told by Aboriginals themselves. I have had first hand experience recently of a senior member of my community who wants to dispute a public, Aboriginal historical marker as he deems it inaccurate. Would this be the first time inaccurate history has been recorded? No. If white folk are allowed to make mistakes telling their history, why not Aboriginal folk.

  7. Teresa

    Not that I even agree by the way that it is inaccurate. But this double standard that exists upsets me greatly.

    1. Susan

      I agree. Hypocrasy and double standards have no place anywhere. In situations like the one you mention, I often remember the quote from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ It always frustrates me when people talk about equality but then show by their actions that they really believe one person (or group of people) is superior.

  8. Meredith

    Awesome article. I love what you say about the gradual development of a social conscience.
    As you know, my daughter is reading Morris Gleitzman’s “Once” as part of her literacy class in Year 6. Reading the Diary of Anne Frank and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit were pivotal moments in my own childhood, especially with my German heritage.

    Will definitely be giving Anita Heiss’s book to my daughter.
    .-= Meredith´s last blog ..Holding Out for a Hero? =-.

  9. Ramona Davey

    I think it is a shame that children are being deprived of certain types of literature. This book would make such a good discussion point in class or at home.
    .-= Ramona Davey´s last blog ..Reading Readiness =-.

    1. Susan

      One of the things that I particularly liked about The Diary of Mary Talence is that it offers plenty for kids to think about without getting into the issues that are too complex for younger readers to understand. The focus is on how Mary feels and her personal experiences rather than the larger socio-political situation, although there is some mention of this.

      I don’t believe it is possible to shelter kids from ‘big’ issues then all of a sudden say, “well, now you’re 16, let me tell you what life is all about”. Books like this are a wonderful way of gradually building a picture of our history as a nation and offering children who are interested an opportunity to ask questions and think more deeply about the world around them.

  10. Robert Elliott Lang

    My Daughter and I have always had deep and meaningfull conversations about everything.I tell her what I think about a topic,then I tell her what most people think! I end with asking her to form her own opinion,regardless of what anyone else thinks..

  11. RubyTwoShoes

    I dont think that it is too young, but I do not have any experience in dealing with 11 odd year olds so I have no idea how the process info like this! But it sounds great that it is tailored to their age group.

    it is an interesting topic in general, how we ingrain a sense of social justice, mine is firing wildly, but I have no recollection of where it came from – it was certainly nothing overt on my parents part, maybe it was just intuitive – which is exciting when you think of the potential of what kids can pick up on…or scary depending on the circumstances!
    .-= RubyTwoShoes´s last blog ..How Not to Teach a Music Lesson =-.

  12. Becky (Page Turners)

    Wow, I also find it very scary that your friend would say that the topic of The Stolen Generation was not suitable for primary school children. That’s terrible. Its Australian history. It is a part of our country, a very significant part of our history our identity, whether white or Aboriginal.

    I saw Anita Heiss at the Sydney Writers Festival this year and throught she was really interesting. I would love to read this book, especially after your wonderful review. I am going to add it to my wish list with a link to your review.

    I found your blog on the Aust Book Bloggers Directory and I will definitely be back. I am from NSW and have a blog called Page Turners.
    .-= Becky (Page Turners)´s last blog ..It’s Monday! What are you reading? =-.

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