Fred has to get used to a lot in 1999—her family is changing and so is her hometown, and there are going to be growing pains. Despite being set over two decades ago, The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks provides a prescient, timely and profoundly kind entry point into Australian issues and politics for intrigued young readers (like its protagonist). It addresses themes of grief, geography and generosity with a deft hand, through the eyes of a perceptive and caring 11-year-old with many nicknames, and a town that is changed by refugees seeking sanctuary from war.
It uses the issues of sharing Australia’s “boundless plains” parallel with sharing your space in a home that your family is quickly outgrowing. It carries the theme of man-made borders throughout, addressing the idea that just because something exists—a country, a place, a city, a house—that it will always be the same. When we chart and map a place it becomes enshrined and viewed as almost permanent, and this book walks its young readers through the concept of spaces being living, vibrant and subject to positive change. It encourages critical thinking about the nature of these spaces, and helps the audience breathe out into the new ones. The friction Fred feels when she learns her family will be changing forever, while she is still in the middle of learning to live without her late mother is one the audience feels as well, and learns to move through with her and her family.
For its middle-grade readership, it’s a great opportunity to learn the difference between what is right and what is expected. The Year the Maps Changed encourages its readers to develop their own moral compass and thoughts, independent of peer pressure and informed with deep empathy for others.
Well-researched and written with compassion, this book is excellent for young and curious eyes.