Stardust by Ivana Mlinac
On any given day in New Zealand some 23,000 children are affected by having a parent in prison. These children are among some of the most vulnerable children in our community. Pillars, a charity for children of prisoners, states that these children are over nine times more likely than any other Kiwi kid to end up in prison as adults.
These children, the “invisible victims of crime,” are in a situation that they didn’t create or choose, yet they face a sentence of their own.
University of Auckland researcher Ivana Mlinac’s goal is to change the discourse around how we speak about and to these children.
Stardust is her creative story, born from her 2016 research about parental incarceration. Written with the child in mind, it aims to give them hope and self-belief; that despite the challenges they face, they can achieve their goals and dreams.
It tells the story of a little girl whose mum lives far away. Her mother sends her a letter with a magic gift inside, but as the little girl discovers, the true magic was already inside her. While the girl and her mum cannot see each other, they find a unique way to feel connected through the sky and stars. This creates a sense of safety and love, that allows the girl to focus on the positive memories she has of her mum.
The story explores the emotions that come with having a parent in prison and not being able to see each other on a regular basis. While it is undoubtedly for children with parents in prison, it will also build empathy and understanding for children (and adults) not experiencing this situation.
Moody illustrations from Porsche Tiavale perfectly pair with the story. From the yellow bell of the kōwhai to the fluffy poi on a tūī throat, this book is instantly recognisable for Kiwi kids. Deep blues with bursts of bright colour make the book a visual delight and help convey the deep message the story carries.
Resources and activities to help build children’s self-belief, hope and resilience are also included in the book. There are ideas for parents, schools and families to do together, to build connections and affirm children’s uniqueness and strengths.
Stardust is an incredibly important, and much-needed, picture book. Mlinac is a firm believer that literature can have a life-changing impact on individuals. There is no doubt that this heartbreaking yet hopeful story will change lives.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Mary Egan Publishing, RRP $20.00