Title: Mina and the Whole Wide World
Author: Sherryl Clark
With art by: Briony Stewart
Publisher: University of Queensland Press – UQP
Publication date: July 2, 2021
Themes: Refugees, acceptance, friendship, humanity, courage, belonging, poetry
Mina and the Whole Wide World by Sherryl Clark is a powerful verse novel that draws you into Mina’s world right from the very start. Mina shares a room with her little brother, Georgie, “he’s a wrecker”, so Mina is desperately looking forward to moving into her very own room where she can unpack her box of precious things and then she will no longer need to hide this box of treasure from Georgie. Mina’s room is almost ready; one more coat of paint and then it is all hers. When her dream of owning her own room is nearly realised, Mina’s parents tell her that someone is coming to live with them for a little while and they will need Mina’s room. Mina is shattered and is devoid of words as the reality of this sinks in. Mina feels voiceless as she feels robbed of what was hers and the devastation as well as an enormous sense of loss causes her to withdraw and not speak. This person who is coming to stay is Azzami, he is a refugee. His mother is in hospital and his father has passed away.
Mina is blinded by her own disappointment and has little tolerance for Azzami who does not speak to her family, seems to prefer his own company and worst of all, spends the majority of his time in what was meant to be her room. Mina shows little compassion for Azzami who is in her class at school.
Mina and Azzami have a very caring, wise and sensitive teacher, Ms Smart, who introduces Azzami and tells the class a little about him. Ms Smart encourages Azzami to speak to the class, but respects his decision to decline. Oliver is quick to cast judgements about Azzami and starts calling him names. Ms Smart swiftly responds showing no tolerance for Oliver’s behaviour. However, during recess Oliver continues to taunt Azzami who does not react. Oliver then turns on Mina. Mina is frustrated that Azzami won’t speak, or stand up for himself. She doesn’t understand why.
It is through Azzami’s incredibly detailed drawings that Mina learns about Azzami and develops a sense of empathy. Her steely heart towards him softens as she is awakened to his life and what it has entailed living in and fleeing from Afghanistan. This understanding marks the beginning of a friendship. Azzami’s drawings enable Mina to see his world through his eyes and this very powerful realisation leads Mina to the discovery that we can share a space and our hearts with someone new to us, or from another place. There is space for sharing and everyone ‘in the whole wide world’.
Briony Stewart’s evocative illustrations highlight Mina’s reactions and give the reader an even greater appreciation into Mina’s perspective. The use of verse and format of the text allows readers to digest the words, visualise what is happening, imagine and make connections. This endearing verse novel will tug at your heart and no doubt encourage conversations about attitude towards refugees in Australia.