Review Blog

Jul 17 2017

May Tang: a new Australian by Katrina Beikoff

cover image

A New Australian series. Omnibus, 2017. ISBN 9781742990743
(Age: 10-12) Highly recommended. Themes: Immigration, Chinese in Australia, Chinese History. Eleven year old May Tang's familiar life in Shanghai is about to change. Her oldest brother Peter is settled in Sydney, studying at university. The year is 1989 and Chinese students are campaigning for democracy, for freedom of the press and political change. May is unaware of the real reasons that Peter was sent to Australia. She enjoys going to the park with her grandfather Ye Ye, listening to his stories and his beautiful singing bird. At home, her older sister Jie Jie bosses her around, always telling her what to do. May is a dreamer, she loves her Chinese life, her mother's cooking, the little street stalls and the sights and smells of her city. May begins to understand when her mother shares her story about the government's taking her out of uni and sending her to work on a farm and reading Peter's letter about a better life in Australia. Her father shares the news about the terrible turmoil in Tiananmen Square and Peter's political activism, so the family decide to send mother and daughter to Australia for safety.
Everything is strange and different in this new big city; she is reluctant to leave the airport. Peter settles them in an apartment and then leaves to work picking cherries in the country. May has to be the adult, interpreting for her mother, helping her find a job and face the difficulties of attending a new school. Here, she is a victim of bullying and racist views, and when taunted for her Chinese ways she becomes very unhappy. When she meets a new friend Jade she finds acceptance and encouragement as she learns to believe in herself.
May Tang is the sixth novel in the A New Australian series exploring a specific historical period and the impact on a girl and her family immigrating to Australia. Katrina Beikoff's novel interweaves factual information with a beautifully detailed story. She realistically captures both the Chinese and Australian ways of life; the sights and smells of Sydney's Chinatown, the eighties clothing - shoulder pads, the big hairstyles - crimped and curled, even the birds are so different. With relatable characters, realistic settings and slices of history these novels are suitable for Middle Primary classes studying Australian History and immigration.
Rhyllis Bignell

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