Shaozhen (Through my Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones)

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Wai Chim, Shaozhen (Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones), Allen & Unwin, August 2017, 208pp, $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760113797

When Shaozhen returns home to his small Chinese village for the school holidays in 2014, he finds a community in a dire situation. Most of the adults have left for work in the distant cities leaving only children and the elderly to tend the crops. Severe drought also threatens the region and when the local water sources completely dry up, the villagers must walk 90 minutes carrying buckets to the nearest town where the ruling Communist Party has arranged for a water truck to visit daily. Compounding the problems is the arrival of a new young and inexperienced Village Secretary who does not seem to be able to effectively represent the community and its needs. Shaozhen is dismayed by the almost overwhelming difficulties, but with the help of a few friends and the new Secretary he implements a plan that more effectively distributes the precious water and the villagers manage to gather a small crop to help them through the coming winter.

Shaozhen is an adolescent that readers can easily relate to: he is concerned about school, loves to play basketball, wants the approval of his parents and friends and is worried about the future. Although, like many others less fortunate than most Australian children, he has to contend with the devastating consequences of a natural disaster. Based on a major drought in Henan China in 2014, this is an engaging, character driven novel. It is a tale of hope as Shaozhen’s ingenuity and fortitude bring people together to co-operate and solve their problems.

This latest addition to the absorbing Through My Eyes- Natural Disaster Zones series provides young readers with yet another thought-provoking insight into the problems and difficulties experienced by children of their age group living in different countries. The story is thoroughly researched and the sense of authenticity is enhanced through a “Find Out More” reference section at the end of the text. A useful glossary of common Chinese expressions used in the text also helps the reader to easily follow the narrative.

Shaozhen is a wonderful text to use for discussion and extension work in classrooms. Alternatively, it can simply be read as an engrossing book for 11 to 15 year old readers while informing them about the plight of children in places where the tragedy of natural disaster is a part of life. It a book that is worthy of close study or as an addition to any library.

Teachers Notes can be found on the Allen & Unwin website.

Reviewed by John Nolan

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