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The Bone Sparrow

Written by Zana Fraillon

Key Stage 3 Family / Home Stories General Fiction

LoveReading View on The Bone Sparrow

Devastating, powerful novel about friendship, cruelty and resiliance - set in a refugee camp | Refugees | Resilience | Friendship

Longlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award | Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017 and awarded the Amnesty CILIP Honour | Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2016.

A heartfelt, harrowing insight into life as a Rohingya refugee in an Australian detention centre, told through the unforgettable voice of an unforgettable boy.

Subhi is one of the Limbo kids in a permanent Australian detention centre, the first to be born in the camp after his Maá and big sister Queeny fled violent persecution in Burma. While he’s only experienced life within the cruel confines of the camp, Subhi’s rich imagination has conjured a magical, solace-giving world in which the Night Sea from his Maá’s tales brings him treasures from his dad. Stories are Subhi’s lifeline. He needs them “to make my memories” and imagines a blanket of stories, a “gigantic blanket big enough to warm everyone”.

A new story treasure transforms Subhi’s world in the form of Jimmie, a local girl who finds her way into the camp. She too knows heartache. She’s lost her mum, who used to tell her special tales and gave her a bone sparrow necklace that “carried the souls of all her family”. When Jimmie enters Subhi’s life, he wonders if she’s his guardian angel, though he hadn't expected an angel to have more holes in her clothes than him. And, on meeting Subhi, Jimmie realises that she’s “never had a friend she wanted to share everything with before”, and so she shares her mum’s stories with him, stories he reads to her since she’s unable to read them herself.

Subhi's unique voice will weave its way into your heart and under your skin. His descriptions of life in the centre are hauntingly evocative. You feel, for example, the heat of days that get his “skin creeping” and make everything “jangly and loud and scratchy”. Through Subhi, readers experience how it might feel to have no home or voice, and how friendship can lighten the darkest of circumstances. One hopes, as Subhi’s Maá says, that “someday they see we belong.” Both elegant and raw, this is an important and timely novel that bears witness to the risks people take to make their voice heard, and to the resilience of the human spirit.

Joanne Owen

More About This Book

Zana Fraillon felt compelled to write her novel The Bone Sparrow because she could not ignore the millions of people who were being forcibly displaced and the millions of children missing out on a childhood. Zana comments, “The Bone Sparrow was written so we remember the people behind the statistics. Those 65 million stories waiting to be told, those 33 million children wondering if their futures will ever be realised. It was written so we can find the courage to stand for humanity, and the wisdom to imagine a different world. It was written so we may all live in hope.”

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize Judge SF Said: “Moving and memorable, The Bone Sparrow deserves to be read by all who care about our common humanity.”

The Bone Sparrow Synopsis

Subhi is a refugee who has spent all ten years of his life in a detention centre. Jimmie is a girl who lives on the Outside. Beautiful, vivid, and deeply moving, The Bone Sparrow is an important, timely story of survival and bravery, perfect for fans of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

This novel reminds us all of the importance of freedom, hope, and the power of a story to speak for anyone who's ever struggled to find a safe home. Born in a refugee camp, all Subhi knows of the world is that he's at least 19 fence diamonds high, the nice Jackets never stay long, and at night he dreams that the sea finds its way to his tent, bringing with it unusual treasures. And one day it brings him Jimmie. Carrying a notebook that she's unable to read and wearing a sparrow made out of bone around her neck - both talismans of her family's past and the mother she's lost - Jimmie strikes up an unlikely friendship with Subhi beyond the fence. As he reads aloud the tale of how Jimmie's family came to be, both children discover the importance of their own stories in writing their futures.

Subhi’s story is just one story, but we believe it gives voice to a million refugees. We’re taking the responsibility of this subject matter very seriously. We have partnered with Book Aid International and for every copy of The Bone Sparrow sold, we will donate a book to a refugee child.

The Bone Sparrow Reader Reviews

Teens love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our older Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Sophie Bridges, age 13 - 'I think The Bone Sparrow By Zana Fraillon is a really adventurous and exiting book.'
  • Anastasia Abdian, age 11 - 'The Bone Sparrow is a very emotional book. It will allow you to know more about how refugees are treated and how they live in the detention camps. It is an amazing book.'
  • Eloise Mae Clarkson, age 14 - 'This book is about a boy (Subhi) who lives in a refugee detention centre and it highlights his daily struggles. This story is an interesting blend of fact with fiction.'
  • Imogen Breaks, age 13 - 'The Bone Sparrow is a story of two children's journey to freedom, but first they have to survive.  This novel is quite a difficult read as the refugees face many horrors but it's worth reading.'
  • Ella O'Gorman, age 11 - 'Bone Sparrow is a wonderful, thought-provoking and sad book. It tells the story of Subhi, his mother and sister, who are Rohingya refugees and are living indefinitely in a detention centre.'
  • Hannah, age 15 - 'This is a great book for 11 to 12 year olds, it is very captivating and gets very fast paced at major moments.'
  • Amy Laws, age 14 - 'Inspiring, eye-opening and emotional- I was hooked by this novel from the very first line.'
  • Isaac Phelan, age 12 - 'A deeply moving novel that expresses a refugee child's desire to thrive.'
  • Edward bailey, age 11 - 'Breathtaking!'
  • Daniel Mann, age 12- 'The Bone Sparrow is an inspirational book about a young naïve boy, Subhi. This book may be fiction but it holds a truth to real life and one of its bigger problems. If you read this be ready to cry.
  • Jodi Coffman, age 14 - 'This book was really captivating and had me hanging on every word.'
  • Adam Goodman, age 13 - 'Whilst it was hard to get into, I really enjoyed it afterwards and found it extremely exciting.
  • Dylan Sweet, age 13 - 'I rate this four stars and, due to violent scenes, for readers aged 11 and up. It is an original book and I’ve not read one like it.' 
  • Destiny Maraj, age, 14- 'It is definitely a book for today, addressing the global issue of refugees and displaced people. I really enjoyed this novel.'

The Bone Sparrow Press Reviews

This is a tragic, beautifully crafted and wonderful book whose chirpy, stoic hero shames us all. I urge you to read it The Independent

The story of Subhi, sensitively told and immensely moving, gives us a glimpse of what homeless, imprisoned existence life feels like... and how the hope invested in a vision of a better future can end up being the difference between making it out, and surrendering to despair. The Big Issue

Stories can change how people think and this book aims to do just that Claire Hennessey, Irish Times

The Bone Sparrow is already drawing comparisons with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The language captures the children's confusion, their hope mixed with worry over their families and dreams of freedom, but the novel doesn't flounder in abject misery when it easily could Yorkshire Post

With an affecting and distinctive narrative voice ... she builds a convincing and complete world. Moving and memorable, The Bone Sparrow deserves to be read by all who care about our common humanity The Guardian

While addressing themes of loss, desperation, and injustice in an all-too-relevant setting, Fraillon's resonant novel underscores the healing power of story. Starred Review from Publishers Weekly

Cleverly imagined and very affecting Belfast Telegraph

Stories can change how people think and this book aims to do just that Irish Times

Deeply moving novel Aldershot News & Mail

A profoundly poignant novel Metro (Across UK)

...a special book Morris Gleitzman, author of the acclaimed Once series

Outstanding ... This is an important, heartbreaking book with frequent, unexpected humour, that everyone, whether teenager or adult, should read. Guardian

A contender for the children's book of the year... It is a heartrending tale about how our stories make us, and also an angry polemic, vividly convincing in is detailed description of what it means for your home to be a tent in the dust behind a guarded fence. The Sunday Times

A profoundly poignant novel about what it means to live as a refugee, neither inside nor out.  METRO

The writing is beautiful and the message of survival and bravery a universal one The Bookseller

Zana Fraillon's powerful and poetic tale of friendship in the face of injustice will fly away with your heart. Katharine Marsh, Edgar Award-winning author of The Night Tourist

An incredibly moving and powerful story about hope, freedom and survival. This is such an important topic, and a heart-achingly realistic story - everyone, both teenagers and adults, should read it.  Rachel Meier, Waterstones Canterbury

What a powerful story. Detention camps are no place for children. No place for humans. Clare Hall-Craggs Book Trust

Think of it as a powerful polemic, yes, but also think of it as a story of the redeeming power of friendship and the vital nature of storytelling The Bookbag

A heart-rending, beautiful story. From the first line I knew that I would be utterly moved by the words written so passionately, weaving a narrative that is at times difficult to read. This is a book that will make change happen The Book Activist blog

This book made me cry in Temple Gardens at page 21. Loving it Grass for Dinner Blog

So beautiful. And so important... encourages empathy. For kids and adults alike! The Book Addict blog

The Bone Sparrow - a vital and necessary book - should be in all schools throughout the UK and in the hand of every politician! Sean Edwards, YLG Librarian

This is an important, heart-breaking book, with frequent, unexpected humour, that everyone, whether teenager or adult, should read The

This is quite simply a heart-rending, beautiful story... the story is woven by an author who is clearly passionately wanting to address an issue that is now so prevalent in our world; surely it cannot be ignored. This is a book that will make change happen. Reading Zone

A heartrending tale about how our stories make us, and also an angry polemic, vividly convincing in its detailed description of what it means for your home to be a tent in the dust behind a guarded fence The Sunday Times

One of those rare, special books that will break your heart with its honesty and beauty, but is ultimately hopeful and uplifting Book Trust

Book Information

ISBN: 9781510101548
Publication date: 14th July 2016
Author: Zana Fraillon
Publisher: Orion Children's Books an imprint of Hachette Children's Group
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 240 pages
Year Groups: Key Stage 3
Topics: Family / Home Stories, General Fiction

About Zana Fraillon

Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. Her 2016 novel The Bone Sparrow won the ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children, the Readings Young Adult Book Prize and the Amnesty CILIP Honour. It was also shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the Queensland Literary Awards, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, the Gold Inky and the CILIP Carnegie Medal. She spent a year in China teaching English and now lives in Melbourne with her three sons, husband and two dogs. When Zana isn't reading or writing, she likes to explore the museums ...

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