‘Poppy at Summerhill’ is the second instalment of the ‘Our Australian Girl’ series by Gabrielle Wang. Eleven year old Poppy has run away from theMission in search of her brother, who has left to pursue a fortune and future on the goldfields. Poppy longs to see her brother Gus again, and is desperate to find him before her twelfth birthday, when, if discovered, she will be sent away to work as a maid. Disguised as a boy named Kal, with her new canine friend Fisher by her side, she continues on her journey towards Wahgunyah. However, her plans are thwarted when she has her leg caught in a dingo trap, and she is taken by Aboriginal workman Tom, to recuperate at the Summerhill homestead. There she finds a safe haven, except for the hostility shown to her by young Joe. Joe’s twin sister, Noni, is Poppy’s new friend, but she develops a crush on ‘Kal’, forcing Poppy into a confession about her true identity. Tom encourages Poppy to have confidence in herself, and he teaches her some of the stories and skills of the Aboriginal people. Finally, she leaves Summerhill on horseback, to cross the river and resume her search for Gus.
‘Our Australian Girl’ is becoming a popular series in our school library, particularly with girls aged from 9 – 12. This book maintains the reader’s interest with plenty of action, some suspense, and the intrigue of the unfolding plot. Girls who have read the first in the Poppy series will definitely enjoy the sequel. The characters are likeable, and easy to relate to. One of the things I like most about the series, is the way young readers are gently educated about the people and social conventions of that period of history as the story unfolds. For example, we empathise with Poppy in her complex predicament: she doesn’t belong with any particular group, because she is half-Aboriginal, half-Chinese, she is an orphan, and she will be sent to work with an unknown family when she turns twelve. We admire her courage as she faces her fears and braves this frightening journey, learning new skills of survival along the way. For example, she shivers with distaste as she steels herself to skin and gut the goanna before cooking it for her dinner. Through her conversations with Tom and the Aboriginal people at his camp, we learn about the different cultural attitudes to ownership, the land, and the law.
The historical, social and cultural accuracy of the story is supported by two pages of extra historical notes in the back of the book. What a wonderful read aloud this would be for a middle or upper primary class studying Australian history! There is potential for use as a class text, or for literature circles in Years 4 – 6. We are also provided with a section of Chapter 1 of the next book in the series. This is sure to arouse the reader’s curiosity and whet their appetite for the next instalment. I’m looking forward to it as well!