Book Review: “Say Yes: A story of friendship, fairness and a vote for hope” by Jennifer Castles with illustration by Paul Seden (#AWW2017)


“Because, you know, I am from a background where you understand about racial prejudice and you understand about equality. You know all the stuff – in a sort of intellectual, ‘right thinking’ way. But you don’t really know anything, because you don’t know people who have experienced it and who are looking at it from inside out. So for me [my relationship with Mandy Brown has] been really transformative in understanding how little I know and how deep the issues are.” – Marg Castles

I came to know this book, Say Yes: A story of friendship, fairness and a vote for hope (Allen & Unwin, 2017), via a segment of ABC’s 7.30 Report on April 27. Titled “Children’s book about friendship and a crucial moment in Australian history”, it tells the story of two young girls – one Aboriginal, the other from a white Australian family – who met in Adelaide in 1967 and became very good friends.

The girls were confused – why couldn’t they stay together in school, at the public swimming pool and the cinema, and while traveling on train? Just because they looked different? They cried: “It’s the law but that’s not fair. It’s just not fair.”

That was the story of Mandy Brown and Marg Castles, whose friendship has lasted 50 years and is still going strong. It inspired Marg’s sister Jennifer Castles to write Say Yes, whose publication helped to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum that made the law fairer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. The keyword here is “fairer”, because “it was ‘a good beginning’, but there is still A LOT to do…”

The writing in this book is very straightforward. Paul Seden’s realistic illustrations, combined with the use of a diverse range of historical images and notes, help to augment a sense of reality. This is not just a children’s book, as the use of plain descriptive words in different colours and sizes demands attention from both young and adult readers. More importantly, Say Yes as a book captures a moment in our nation’s history – an essence of our nationhood – when we shared the same desire to be united by one identity. The book encourages readers to reflect upon this meaningful event, particularly when we realise it was only one moment in the past and we still have problems at the present and more than ever need to keep hoping and working together for a better future.

Recommended reading: “Jennifer Castles: Books that Changed Me”, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 16, 2017.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Childrens and Young Adults: Round Up Five – 2017 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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