Review of ‘The Year The Maps Changed’
Title: ‘The Year The Maps Changed’
Author: Danielle Binks
Age Range: middle grade, upper primary
Themes: Australia, modern history, ‘Operation Safe Haven’, Kosovar refugees, asylum, immigration, empathy, kindness, grief, loss, maps, geopgraphy, coming of age, family, blended family, divorce.
Teachers’ Notes: prepared by Robyn Sheahan-Bright
Without a doubt one of my favourite middle grade reads in some time, ‘The Year the Maps Changed’ is a sophisticated novel which draws you in close to the intimate story of grief, loss and love experienced by one family while simultaneously giving a broad overview of the Australian government response to the desperate plight of refugees. The melding of a very personal story with the big issues of society makes for a novel which covers much terrain but remains engaging, authentic and full of heart.
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‘The Year The Maps Changed’
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Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. Winifred‘s family is a mess. Also known as Fred, Freddo or Winnie, her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s 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.
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 ways that no one could have expected.
There are so many things I enjoyed about this debut novel from Danielle Binks. I loved the small acts of kindness displayed by the characters (and not always the ones you expected), which pull the reader through some fairly harrowing times in society and in Fred’s family. I loved the sensitive yet frank exploration of grief is so many forms – grief for a parent, grief for an unborn child, grief for a country, grief at displacement. I really loved the depiction of Fred’s blended, eclectic, non nuclear family unit – I could not have loved this more actually – Fred’s family is exactly right for her. As a teacher, I appreciated the idea that young people should educate themselves about politics and world events, rather than relying on conversations heard around the family dinner table. I loved the subtle message to young readers about finding their moral compass and then trusting it to help navigate life and empower them to make informed decisions and be a change-maker. By the time I read the final word of ‘The Year The Maps Changed’, I felt like I’d journeyed with Fred through some huge life and world events and that she might just remain with me always. Isn’t this what we want for the young readers in our life – to keep the characters they love inside them always? Fred is great. You’re going to love her.
Maps lie. Or at least, they don’t always tell the truth. They’re like us humans that way.‘The Year The Maps Changed’ by Danielle Binks
When I launch my full ‘Build a Book Club’ e-course, look out for ‘The Year The Maps Changed’ as one of the stand out titles – with full discussion notes and a letter of introduction from author Danielle Binks.