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Paper Boats: An Anthology of Short Stories about Journeys to Australia

Cambridge University Press,

2012, RRP $24.95

Reviewed by Selina Li Duke.

PAPER Boats is an anthology of 21 stories intended for upper primary and lower secondary students of English.

They are grouped under seven themes: War, Escape, Journey, Detention, Change, Opportunity and Belonging. Each group is followed by questions and exercises under the headings Research and Discussion, and Writing and Creating.

But these stories are more than mere tools for the study of story-telling.

They were all written by high school students from immigrant or refugee backgrounds.

Most came from Afghanistan; others from Africa, Europe and India. Many have endured the immense traumas of war, escape and detention.

Fatima Moradi's uncle, for instance, was "shot dead (in Kabul) on the way home from the tailor, where he went to get his wedding suit".

Kpana Bolay lost two brothers and five sisters (some missing, some dead) to the war in Liberia. Jamila Shirzad took part in a daring escape from a Malaysian jail.

Mohammad Mohsim, who "had never seen the ocean before", nearly drowned when a big wave hit his boat.

Yet, while all are happy to be in Australia, for some the challenge of life in the new country is just as formidable as the hardships in their old homelands.

Tiyeba Ansari, for instance, was upset when one day "a white guy" in the street pulled her hijab down, saying she was wearing her mother's tea towel.

The editor Yasar Duyal, himself a migrant from Cyprus and a teacher of English and Turkish in Melbourne, was inspired by the stories he heard from his students to compile the anthology.

"I just wanted the students to know that their stories matter. They matter."

The stories in this anthology would make a useful resource for discussions, especially among young people, on social justice issues.