A moving story of one child's life in the conflict zone of Sri Lanka.
Robert Hillman is a Melbourne-based writer of fiction and biography. His autobiography, The Boy in the Green Suit, won the Australian National Biography Award for 2005. His 2007 biography, My Life as a Traitor, written with Zarah Ghahramani, appeared in numerous overseas editions and was short-listed for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards in 2008. His first collaboration with Najaf Mazari, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, grew out of an abiding interest in the hardships and triumphs of refugees. His second collaboration with Najaf, 2011's The Honey Thief, is a collection of spellbinding tales that reveal the rich storytelling traditions of Afghanistan. His biography of blind indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, Gurrumul: His Life and Music, was published in 2013, and a new novel, Joyful, came out in April 2014.
Series editor Lyn White has been a primary school teacher-librarian and EAL teacher for more than twenty years and recently completed postgraduate studies in Editing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. Lyn is passionate about children's literature, committed to developing life-long reading habits in children, and has great expertise in engaging students with quality texts and teachers with quality resources. Her work with refugee and migrant children motivated her to create a series that spoke of their experiences, and led to the Through My Eyes series.
When Malini is told by her father to run into the forest with her younger sister and hide, she does as she is told. All the villagers have been rounded up and herded to the coast where they will be used as a human shield to slow the advance of the Sinhalese Army. Few will survive. It is 2009 and the civil war, which has devastated much of north eastern Sri Lanka after the withdrawal of the British in 1948, is coming to a close. Malini and her sister, Banni, must survive as best they can as refugees in their own land, eating what they can find, travelling carefully, hoping to find their grandfather’s village many miles away before the soldiers on either side find them. Along the way, they come across a group of three children also displaced by the war, and Malini cares for them too, all the while feeling beyond her age of fourteen.
Their journey across Sri Lanka exposes the atrocities on both sides, the impact of war on ordinary people and the reasons behind war. Above all, we see the effect of such conflict on children. Malini and her family are Tamil, from the north, and have been taught Sinhalese and English alongside their own language, being encouraged to accept all faiths. The children they meet are Sinhalese as is the girl who saves them from the soldiers, giving the reader insight into the feelings of both communities. Another in the excellent series Through My Eyes, Malini will encourage students to view the unrest in other parts of the world through the eyes of a person their own age. With the civil war in Sri Lanka now at an end, readers will gain insights into the effect of war on the ordinary household, village or community. There is a timeline of the events in Sri Lanka since 1948, as well as a glossary and web addresses to find out more information, while others in this series are displayed at the end of the book.
Highly recommended for classes where discussion of other countries is under way, or perhaps a literature circle is being undertaken using all the books in the series, the easy flowing text and appeal of the courageous main characters will ensure kids are hooked from the start. Insights into the Buddhist and Hindu beliefs of Sri Lanka also sit alongside the themes of war, courage and refugees.
Fran Knight, Adelaide SA 5000
Another wonderful novel in the series edited by Lyn White, this narrative is set in the highlands of war torn Sri Lanka. The main character Malini is confronted with so many trials and tribulations, one can just stop and wonder at the resilience a young 14-year-old can possess and use to the advantage of herself, her sister Banni and a few other refugee children. The ‘tear drop of the Indian ocean’ Ceylon, now named Sri Lanka, has been a hot bed of violence, racism and atrocities amongst its people since 1956 and has only just had some sort of resolution in 2014. The edges of religion and politics between the Tamil and Sinhalese people have fuelled fighting, death and war crimes that have affected tens of thousands of innocent victims.
Malini was about to become one of those victims. Raised in the Tamil community in the northern part of the island of Sri Lanka, Malini was thrown into the terrors of war and killing. Escaping on foot from a death march as a human shield with the rest of her village, she managed to grab her sister, a mobile phone and charger from her father then dashed into the forest alongside the road. What now? Hide and try to figure out what to do, where to go… The fear of being captured by marauding Sri Lankan government soldiers or even suspicious Tamil Tiger fighters drives a wedge of fear into Malini as she struggles to find a safe haven with her grandparents in the North West section of Sri Lanka. The mobile phone loses its charge, reception is pathetic and therefore any contact with her parents and their fate is zilch!
The novel places the reader in a variety of suspenseful scenarios and settings on the island of Sri Lanka. The way Malini and her group sort through the issues they encounter are very engaging. The group size is increased when some other waifs are met along the trip to Malini’s grandparents’ home. The eventual outcome is extremely satisfying and the emotions that Malini displays at the end of the novel are in tune with the horrors these young people needed to confront.
Investigate the Sri Lankan cuisine:
Construct a small recipe chart or booklet that reflects different cultural groups that inhabit Sri Lanka. Ensure that all meal sections are covered.
Spices: What are they? Research the spices used in Sri Lankan cooking and construct a list with definitions etc. Attempt to taste these from or at home.
Define this type of conflict. Why is it different to a world war? What were many of the reasons for the Sri Lankan conflict?
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is extremely famous world-wide for its production of tea. Investigate how tea became such a huge resource for this country. Investigate and discover as many brand names of Sri Lankan teas as possible.
The tourist industry for Sri Lanka is being heavily promoted.
Find as many tourist options available in Sri Lanka as you wish to research and provide details of the facilities or tours that are available for visitors. This can be in main city areas, coastal or rural positions.
Sri Lanka is part of the Commonwealth of Nations. Research the history of this situation and choose a part of this history to show Sri Lanka’s Commonwealth involvement.
Complete a presentation related to the cultural life of Sri Lankans. This could include religious ceremonies, sporting activities, dance, traditional housing and clothing.
Trevor Dangerfield, Elisabeth Murdoch College, VIC 3910
Civil war is underway in Sri Lanka. Early one morning, soldiers arrive at Malini’s door to take the families from her village to the coast where the civilians will be used as a human shield. Although Malini is only fourteen, when her father realises how much danger they are in, she is urged to take the family’s mobile phone and her young sister and head to safety in her grandfather’s village until they can all be reunited.
With the journey taking them into many varied situations, most of which are fraught with danger, the two girls meet up with many different people. The question is always, who is to be trusted? Must Malini take responsibility for more of the characters they meet on their travels? Surely a child of her age should not be expected to make decisions which could result in life or death situations?
As with each of the other books in this series, the accompanying teaching notes are detailed and could provide a full term’s work across many areas of the curriculum from geography to English to SOSE. Adventure, war, family, responsibility, ethics and many other themes are teased out within the pages of this book. Each chapter ends on a high point, encouraging the reader to continue to see what disaster will befall the characters next! This struck me as being a fast paced novel which would easily engage the reader and would be a useful title either as an upper primary read aloud or in literature circles. This series is one which I continue to praise loudly and recommend to many upper primary and lower secondary teachers.
Jo Schenkel, Year 7 Class Teacher and Library Teacher, Pilgrim School, Aberfoyle Park SA 5159
Malini is the fifth in a series edited by Lyn White, highlighting the plight of children caught up in conflict around the world. This story is set in Sri Lanka towards the end of the civil conflict/war that has been raging there on and off since the 1950s. The Tamil plantation workers imported from India in the 1860s are in conflict with Sinhalese majority. As well as fighting over territory and governance, there is also religious tension between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils.
Malini and her young sister, Banni, live with their parents in northern Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tiger groups have herded the family with others to be their human shields as they push their way through the country. Malini’s father takes the opportunity, when the soldiers are momentarily distracted, to push her and her sister into the bush with only a cell phone, a little food and rudimentary instructions to go to their grandfather’s place.
Malini has to suddenly take on the role of parent and protector. They team up with other displaced children from an orphanage, including a child-soldier and together, they face many dangers including snipers, leeches, snakes and starvation. They also wonder if they will ever see their parents again.
This book is well researched and the timeline at the end is particularly helpful in giving this book a context. As a librarian, I will be highlighting this book as part of a display: Walk a While in Their Shoes. Although children enjoy and identify with stories set in their own context, I am sure readers will gain much appreciation of other cultures from reading this book. With plenty of action, adventure and danger, this book would also be a good novel to read aloud for nine to fourteen-year-olds.
Nova Gibson, Massey Primary School, Auckland NZ 0614
Sri Lanka is an island jewel on the fringe of the Bay of Bengal. Following the coming of independence and the withdrawal of the British, the power vacuum resulted in a struggle that lasts to this day. Malini’s story details the personal impact of this conflict, its trauma and, more significantly, the resilience of innocent individuals caught in the crossfire. Through Malini’s eyes, Robert Hillman lets the reader experience what has become a plague in the modern world – the common thread of the series edited by Lyn White. The plot is uncomplicated, the characters raw and innocent. It is an ideal novel for upper primary or lower secondary classes. Activities in the classroom for this need to focus on the structuring of a novel.
Hillman has crafted Malini in such a way that creating a timeline is easy; pinpointing incidents separately will let the students understand the progression and the various signposts woven therein. Character profiles are built around the protagonist – everything points to her. Malini’s response to the needs of her siblings and other characters at each point along the journey provides students with an understanding of how we get to know and relate to her.
This is what makes the experience real. Compare this, then, to the setting as it changes from their home to their grandparents’ home. As students investigate the few places of importance along the way, they will learn the importance of relevant description as opposed to over-detailed distractions. Build a collage of this information on the wall of the classroom for students to see and revisit.
Michael Cruickshank, Hellyer College, Shorewell Park TAS 7320