About the book

Subhi is a refugee. Born in an Australian permanent detention centre after his mother fled the violence of a distant homeland, life behind the fences is all he has ever known. But as he grows, his imagination gets bigger too, until it is bursting at the limits of his world. The Night Sea brings him gifts, the faraway whales sing to him, and the birds tell their stories.

The Bone Sparrow is a powerful, heartbreaking, sometimes funny and ultimately uplifting hymn to freedom and love.

Book cover of The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon
Published by: 
Hachette Australia

About the author


Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. Zana has written two picture books for young children, a series for middle readers, and a novel for older readers based on research and accounts of survivors of the Forgotten Generation. She spent a year in China teaching English. The Bone Sparrow won the 2017 ABIA Book of the Year for Older Children.

Image of author Zana Fraillon

Judges’ comments

Told poignantly and authentically through the naïve lens of the irrepressible nine-year-old Subhi, this powerful story is timely and important.

Subhi has known only one life - behind the razor wires in a detention centre. His world is confined, brutal and with many hardships. He longs to meet his poet father, wishes his mother would have enough energy to tell him her stories of Burma again, dreams of a beautiful Night Sea that brings him treasures, and talks to the wise-cracking Shakespeare duck. With his rebellious friend Eli, Subhi runs “packages” around the camp, a dangerous pursuit.

Jimmie, a young girl who lives near the centre, provides a second narrative voice, with a number of clever parallels to Subhi’s story. Jimmie has her own struggles: she is grieving for her mother and yearns to be able to read. When Jimmie discovers a way into the centre, an unlikely friendship results. Jimmie brings Subhi thermoses of hot chocolate and Subhi reads out Jimmie’s mother’s stories. But tensions are rising in the centre and soon violence erupts and tragedy strikes.

Set against the harshness and brutality of life in the detention centre, The Bone Sparrow celebrates human courage, spirit and imagination; the power of story, especially in our understanding of self; the importance of friendship; and our right to freedom. It is a beautifully written story, deeply layered and with rich imagery and evocative use of language. The motif of the Night Sea is particularly moving and the humour of Subhi’s Shakespeare duck provides some welcome relief to his dire circumstances.

Honest, deeply affecting and thought provoking, The Bone Sparrow is a story that stays with you long after the last page.