The first spread of this thought-provoking new release shows a child with their woollen hat pulled down over their ears. The words ‘Where are you from?’ pulse around them – Where? Where? Where?! It’s not surprising they might want to hide and block the words out. This is clearly a story created by, and supporting, anyone who gets tired of answering that question. Not that the question itself is so problematic; it’s the connotation – You Are Different – that holds power.‘
People ask me that question all the time…’ says the child, who has equipped themselves with a range of responses. ‘…when a mother and a father love each other very much…’ they begin. It gets a laugh. But still, people ask. The child is of nonspecific cultural origin, and is not identified by a gender, becoming a beautiful representation of anyone and everyone. But the book suggests that when someone’s appearance marks them as ‘other’, it becomes the primary way in which people relate to them.
But what is a kid supposed to say?
I’m from the void and the cosmic dust around our solar system.
I’m from the vaporous clouds and the ocean tides.
I am salt, I am fire, I am earth.
The narrative reads like poetry, evoking the vastness of the universe and the notion that we all ultimately come from the same big bang, the same early ancestors, the same timeline of humanity. The child is frustrated that people do not see supernovas when they ask this question, they see skin, and hair, and difference.
Young readers will enjoy the fantastic landscapes and strolls through space and time, from black holes to sea voyages and cave dwellings. This book is set in a nonspecific location, but it’s a discussion frequently had in Australia. People from diverse backgrounds get used to being asked where they’re from, even if they were born here, even if they are descended from several generations of Australians.
The author and illustrator conclude the book with their own identity statements. Each has a blended cultural history and has faced The Question many times. They remind us that it’s OK to ask the question in context – sometimes it’s great to talk about culture! But, says, Phil Lesnie maybe ‘instead, ask me what I’m reading at the moment. You’ll see my face light up. That’s where I’m really from.’