Natasha Lands Down Under by Katherine McCaughan is reviewed by frequent contributor, traveler and author Debbie Glade. Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.
Natasha is a ten-year-old Russian girl who is forced to adjust to abrupt lifestyle changes when her family flees from China to Australia in 1950. The challenges and hardships Natasha’s family faces are beautifully depicted in this young adult novel, Natasha Lands Down Under. Author Katherine McCaughan was inspired to write this fictional book to reflect her own heritage. Katherine was born in China to Russian parents, and her family fled to Australia – just like the family in the book. She knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider in unfamiliar land.
Back to the book…Natasha is an intelligent, curious girl who is headstrong and cannot help but speak her mind – though this often gets her into trouble. Her family has no choice but to escape China during the Communist Revolution and journey to Australia to live with Natasha’s difficult, annoying aunt and her two spoiled sons. No one in the family including Natasha can speak English, yet she must attend school and learn as quickly as possible. She longs to find a true friend and adjust to her new way of life, but she desperately misses her life in Shanghai.
The story takes place during the course of a year, revealing many flashbacks as well as the gamut of emotions Natasha experiences as an immigrant to Australia. She herself discovers something about her baby sister that becomes a difficult reality for her parents to face. And throughout the book, Natasha learns unexpected truths about other family members. All of the characters in Natasha Lands Down Under are well developed, making them easy for readers to conceptualize.
In Natasha Lands Down Under, the words cascade off the page like a gently flowing river, and the engaging dialogue takes the reader right to the heart of each scene. I love the way author Katherine McCaughan exposes young adult readers to different cultures, languages and lifestyles by subtly weaving the information into the story line. A curious reader will not be able to resist researching more about Russia, China and Australia after reading this book.
Like me, readers young and old will finish this book with a new appreciation for modern day comforts and familiar surroundings. They will also think about the struggles their immigrant ancestors faced when coming to America. Natasha Lands Down Under is a pleasure to read, and I would love to find out in another novel what lies ahead for Natasha.
Natasha Lands Down Under won the 2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Gold Award in the Young Adult Fiction – Historical/Cultural category.