Students can see themselves in the illustrations

Claire Kamber
Novel idea: author Claire Kamber is helping to share the stories of Milpera’s migrant students.

How one author found the power of the page with her stories of the migrant experience

Michelle Obama was the recipient of one of her books, and now young Queenslanders are too.

Claire Kamber, Milpera State High School's author in residence, has found an unmet need in the publishing market for students: the migrant experience.

The settlement and transition process for many migrant and refugee families can be challenging and, in some cases, harrowing.

Milpera Acting Principal Julie Peel said Claire's books helped to build a bridge from their culture, to ours.

'Claire's novels enable our students to identify with the settings and characters. They feel valued and excited to see images that remind them of the countries they came from,' Julie said.

'Seeing their mother tongue or first language in Claire's books always brings about great enthusiasm,' she said. 'These books support our student settlement in Australia by helping them feel valued, and it supports the growth in their literacy and their second language acquisition.'

Claire said the need for these stories motivated her to write these books and be part of the formation of the school's publishing house, Milpera Publishing.

'Educational – and mainstream – publishers overlook this segment of society, but migrant and refugee stories are powerful, moving and relevant. Australian young people can learn a great deal from reading about migrants' experiences,' Claire said.

'Our students can see themselves in the illustrations and also read about characters with whom they identify. That is powerful stuff. It tells them that they matter and that their experiences are worth writing about and sharing.'

Claire said the general narratives of her books were often about young people who leave their homeland and come to Australia. She spends a lot of time reading about the countries and cultures of her characters, as well as watching related documentaries. Claire also road tests the manuscript drafts with the Milpera Publishing group and colleagues who come from the cultures she's writing about.

'For example, Blue Water is about Congo so I talked extensively with Mulibwa Namusomwa, who is the school's Swahili-speaking teacher aide of Congolese background,' she said.

'He was invaluable in providing those little details that bring colour, texture and magic to a story. He suggested making a reference to ugali, which is a meal that all our Congolese students know well.

'When they encounter ugali in the story they are delighted. It gives them something to talk about in class and they can explain it to their fellow students. It's empowering. That's what I mean by 'magic'.'

Igniting a passion for reading, Julie said, was one of the greatest benefits of having Claire as their author in residence.

'Perhaps, most importantly of all, for some of our students the love of literature begins. To be in a classroom where the students are eagerly anticipating the next chapter, or excitedly acting out a chapter for a play, or analysing themes with new perspectives and writing it down in a paragraph, this is when we truly realise the value of Claire's novels,' Julie said.

Books published by Milpera Publishing

  • All in a Game—Pedro, a Brazilian boy who moves to Brisbane with his mother and sister, misses his soccer-playing friends of the streets back home.
  • Blue Water—a Congolese family comes to Brisbane and Junior (the son) teaches Baba (his father) to swim at South Bank.
  • One Year—Hom and her daughter, Mali, move from Thailand to Brisbane. Hom has married an Australian man and Mali is in two minds about a new life and a stepdad she doesn't know.
  • Camel Trek (due to be published July/August 2020)—A Somalian brother and sister make the arduous journey to Kenya with their trusty camel, Asha. They encounter many obstacles and dangers that might prevent them from finally reaching Australia.

For more information, or to purchase books, visit Milpera Publishing.

Last updated 12 November 2020