Term 4 2023
- Feature article
- Regular features
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Diverse titles are finding their homes in libraries
Author Crystal Corocher writes about her new book, covering Australia's migrant history through the lens of her own family's migrant experience.
It wasn’t that long ago that a title like Giovanni may not have made it past the gatekeepers of publishing. Even two years ago, when it was signed, there was interest from publishers early, but one questioned whether it was too ‘niche’ to reach a broader audience.
Yet Giovanni unearths a significant moment in Australia’s migration history and aligns with the Curriculum Priorities of all Australian schools – what could be niche about that?
‘Intercultural understanding involves students learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect.’ - Excerpt from V9.0 Australian Curriculum; Intercultural Understanding 8.4.
Now, as we reach the official release date of this title (October 4 2023), the ongoing movement towards more inclusive literature across the publishing industry, libraries and booksellers has been so significant that Giovanni has already received many early positive reviews. It’s clear that in those preceding two years while the process of shepherding the work to life continued for acquiring publisher, Wombat Books, both buying and reading trends have continued to shift.
What is evident is that Giovanni – and books like it – are not merely a conciliatory reflex to pressure an industry that has been predominantly Anglo-centric. Rather, they are being warmly invited into the sphere as necessary, valued and timely.
‘By engaging with literature from a wide range of cultures, students explore… perspectives on people and ideas, from the past and present.’ - Australian Curriculum V9.0 – English.
As an author, I appreciate these changes and the ‘cracking open’ of sorts that is occurring in the industry at large; this can only mean a richer and fuller future of stories ahead for us all. Though, as a person of migrant ancestry, there is also a validation occurring – an invitation for all to ‘belong’ in the narrative of Australia’s history.
Writing a book like Giovanni to add to the list of texts that support cultural understanding is likely something that has been stirring in me for some time. When my father was mistaken for being Irish growing up, he tended not to correct people. At that time there was something shameful about being Italian, being a ‘wog’. My grandfather didn’t want people to call him by his own name, Fabian, because he would be treated differently; as a ‘Mick’ he could be well-liked – and he very much was.
As for me, I have a swag of stories about being bullied and teased for my appearance as a young person, and of the many, many times I was told to ‘go back to my own country’. But this is my home, just as it is for migrant families of all backgrounds who have come here seeking a better life. This has always felt like fuel to write…something… but it took a visit to the New Italy Museum in NSW and the fresh eyes of one of my dearest friends to know what that would be.
Giovanni is a book for all Australians, because it shares a moment in time that went on to help shape Australia. The Italian migrants who feature in this story landed here after being rescued from a doomed expedition that was led by a corrupt captain who had no intention of keeping them safe. Many lives were lost, but for those who survived, Australia became the start of their new life. The Italians were then rehomed by farming families to work in exchange for housing, until they were eventually permitted freehold land. This was in 1881.
This fact eludes even most people with Italian heritage who, like most Australians, place the first Italian migrants as being part of the wave of migration that occurred in the early 1900s.
It is the descendants of families from that fraught voyage – reimagined here as the historical narrative story, Giovanni – who have held and shared their legacy for generations. As the great-granddaughter of Giovanni himself, I am very proud to share it in print.
This book has been brought to life with exquisite illustrations by debut illustrator, Margeaux Davis, and is an accessible read to support lessons on migration and Australian history. It is best suited for Years 3 and up, a fantastic alignment to Year 5/6 curriculum, and can be used as a scaffolding text in secondary schools. Giovanni is also a text that can be used in the instruction of visual literacy at any year level.
What does ‘seeing yourself on the page’ mean?
With literacy rates and reading engagement rates declining, it is essential that all students have the opportunity to connect with a book. We know that when students have greater borrowing options and available literature covers a broad range of experiences and cultural backgrounds, we open more doors for young people to have a positive experience with reading.
Creative inclusion for EAL/D students
Giovanni is a bilingual text with English and Italian included on every page, making it suitable for EAL/D classrooms and language schools.
English is my native language (my Italian is pretty shaky) and I know I could not be creative in a language other than English, other than ‘my own’.
I would encourage teachers, when supporting students with creative writing development, to look for opportunities to allow EAL/D students to explore creative expression in their own native language and then use the task of translating their story into English as an additional, layered exercise that will strengthen their literacy skills. I have worked with many EAL/D students and as a creative writing teacher for many years and I don’t believe we allow students an equal playing field to develop creative expression if their literacy skills are the sticking point in creating a story. This additional step takes time and may not always be suitable, depending on the student and circumstance. If you do try this exercise, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it goes!
Ways to use Giovanni in your classroom or library session
- Make predictions about the story. What does the cover suggest?
- Align the story to classroom topics. Draw comparisons and make contrasts.
- Visual literacy. What do the images and story tell us? Are they sharing a story too?
- Resilience: Giovanni is a survival story with the theme of resilience at its core.
- Relationships: The theme of family is also important; the relationship between the brothers and the family sticking together is an example of the ways close relationships can help in times of adversity.
- Empathy: Another key theme of the book is empathy; understanding the lengths that many families have gone to in reaching a safe home, the many and varied experiences migrants may have endured to seek change in the first place, and the ongoing challenges of settling into a new culture are all pivotal concepts that can be discussed when reading Giovanni.
Further Discussion Questions
- Have you ever experienced a big change in your life? For example, have you moved house?
- Were you born in a country other than Australia? Would you like to write about your journey to find a new home?
- Do you have a sibling or a special family member or friend that you have been on an adventure with? What was the adventure?
“The stories I want to share are ones that build empathy, foster connection, and celebrate community.” - Crystal Corocher