I will be launching Danielle Binks’ debut middle grade fiction book The Year the Maps Changed with Readings online at 6.30 pm on Thursday 30 April. Danielle is my literary agent and she’s become one of my best friends in the three years since I started working with her. She’s my confidante, fashion advisor and curly girl idol, and I was thrilled when she asked me to launch her book. We planned to do it in the Readings children’s store in Carlton, but then COVID-19 happened, so we are doing it online. You can book tickets here.
I read The Year the Maps Changed almost in one sitting. It was just brilliant. It reminded me of the books I’d get engrossed in as a kid, reading late into the night because I wanted to stay immersed in the story with the characters.
Fred is in grade six – and she is struggling to find her place within her family, and also the world. She has an eclectic family – her Mum died when she was six years old, and she lives with her Pop, Luca – her late Mum’s partner, Anika and Sam – Luca’s new partner and her son, a year younger than Fred. Luca and Anika have a baby on the way. I really liked how Danielle wrote a non nuclear family unit, and also such diverse communities – something I didn’t experience growing up in regional Australia in the 1990s.
Fred has a really tight friendship group – Aidan, Jed, Keira. While they are mature, aware of worldly issues, they’re still kids – riding their bikes around town, loving Lipsmacker lip gloss and being asked to check in at their parents’ work during school holidays. Fred is trying her best, even though she doesn’t always get things right, and the feeling of disappointing the role models in her life – especially Luca and her teacher Mr Khouri, is a weighty feeling.
Fred is very wise – and often says profound things. I loved this line, where she worries about Luca being her father longer than her Mum was alive:
“I wonder if there’s a worse feeling than knowing that no matter what you do, you’ll hurt someone you love without meaning to.”
In the letter to her readers at the beginning of the book, Danielle said she wrote The Year the Maps Changed as a way of learning something she wanted to know – about the true story of the settlement of Kosovar-Albanian refugees on the Mornington Peninsula during the Howard-Ruddock leadership in 1999. She was the same age as Fred when these refugees arrived, fleeing the war between Kosovo and Serbia in the late 1990s.
Fred becomes involved in the refugee community when Luca, a local police officer, volunteers at the safe haven (an old quarantine station). She also befriends a few refugees – Merjeme and Arta who are the same age as Fred and Sam, and Nora – a patient at the hospital. She learns a few Albanian words through her friendships.
Many of the community welcome the refugees, but a few oppose. I loved how Danielle wrote about a 12 year old boy whose family planted negative thoughts about refugees in his mind, but his mind was changed when Fred set the record straight about them, based on Luca’s time volunteering at the safe haven.
There was a passage in the book about a baby being passed through barbed wire, in the war zone. I couldn’t help think of a favourite song of mine from the mid 90s, which I believe was about this very war. It was Southern Sons’ Silent Witnesses, and it has a line in it, “A doll fell out – my god, that was someone’s baby.”
Geography is a big theme in the book – stemming from the title, and mentioned in most chapters. Mr Khouri, who reminded me of my own favourite teacher (Mrs Crossley), is excellent and asking his students to question what they know. I was moved by many things he taught his students, including:
“Sometimes maps are used to take power away from people, along with their land and language. And sometimes they help to change history – or erase it.” – said of how often Africa is depicted as much smaller than North America on maps – when it is actually much bigger.
“What is the purpose of a national anthem, and what does it mean when a country refuses to live by its tradition?” – referring to the seemingly false in our national anthem – “with boundless plains to share.”
While I am a few years older than Danielle – I was in my final year of high school, I did not know a lot of the history Danielle wrote about – including Aboriginal history and about the refugees. She drew attention to the misnaming of Uluru by colonisers, and also some of the Aboriginal history of Mornington Peninsula. I learnt so much reading The Year the Maps Changed.
It’s a story for our time – highlighting the terrible way the Australian government continues to treat asylum seekers (including the inaccessibility of a detention centre for disabled, older and pregnant people), the welcoming spirit of many Australians and also the method of quarantining new arrivals to Australia due to illness ms death – both colonisers and refugees (which was unforeseen at the time of writing).
I know Danielle quite well, and could see she wrote herself into the book a little – a father who was a police officer; a grandparent who lived out the back; her love for the Labor Party and Ten Things I Hate About You; and her support for her favourite local bookshop, Farrells. I love that she wrote about her local area.
Danielle has a beautiful way of writing about big issues for young people – including refugees and infant loss. She has created politically aware, independent thinking, compassionate young people – and this book will shape many minds.
I finished reading it feeling so satisfied – full of new. knowledge for myself, and the feeling that this book – based on historic events – will remain with Danielle’s young readers for a long time. It is beautifully researched and written.
I am so proud of you, Danielle. 🌏💛
(I received an uncorrected proof from the publisher as part of my work on Danielle’s launch, but I’ll be sure to buy my own final copy soon!)