Home and Away – John Marsden & Matt Ottley

Lothian, 2008, 9780734410566 (Australia)

This is my picture book of 2008 – a poignant and necessary story of an ordinary Australian family who find themselves in the midst of a war, and as refugees, are placed in a detention camp. The book is heartbreaking, and older kids should read it. Yes, it will make them upset. Yes, it will make them ask questions. It will shock them like Anne Frank’s diary shocked me when I first read it in Year 4. But it is different to the shock registered from a bit of violence in a movie, or even war images on TV. It is not a fast, look away, type of experience. It has the potential to open their minds, and ours, as older readers. Or for parents, imagining if it were their child, their family.

The book is effective for a couple of reasons. One is John Marsden’s ability to get inside the mind of an adolescent. The book is a series of diary entries by a fifteen year-old, casually describing his family’s quirks, and their life, then sadly recalling the events as they unfold. There are reminiscences of Tomorrow When the War Began and its sequels, but it obviously parallels the current situation of detained refugees in Australia, who have fled from war-torn countries. The story is about empathy. The second striking aspect is shiver-inducing illustrations by Matt Ottley. Some pages are scribbles from family members. Others are dark renderings of a world turned asunder: the family, skeletal, around a table; the ocean; a stern guard, bearing down.

This is a disturbing, moving, and as I mentioned necessary picture book.

15 thoughts on “Home and Away – John Marsden & Matt Ottley

  1. Thanks for bringing picture books into your literary blog. You would have read ‘The Rabbits’? ‘The Rabbits’ is studied in schools and throws the same questions, we need more Australian literaure that makes us ask questions about ourselves.

  2. Home and Away is a brilliant picture book not only for older children but adults too. I hope it receives a nomination for this year’s CBCA awards – it certainly deserves it!

  3. im 11 and i read “home and away” by john marsden
    it is soooo sad
    after i finished reading it i felt like crying
    literally
    it made me think about those poor refugees that have fled from war countries
    when i thought about me being in the narrators shoes i almost cried
    i would have felt
    soo
    soo
    AAARGH helpless and i feel so sorry for the people whose real lives are that-

    i think john marsden and matt ottley have made this very cleverly
    it is a must read

  4. This book is so so sad…I read it a few weeks ago for school. I absolutely love it. But this is a real thing that is happening to real people. This book is an excellent wake-up call.

  5. this book was very good but it was really sad and a bit too in depth, though i liked it alot. I would recamend this book to everyone.

  6. this is a sad but great book
    it is very deep and hits the heart of all who read it
    im am starting my hsc course and my teacher recomended this book to me
    i am using it as a related text for my concept of belonging paper

    again great story

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