Written by Ingrid Laguna
Contemporary, Diverse, #LoveOZMG
Published May 7th 2019
176 Pages
Thank you to Text Publishing
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Jamila has left her friends, her school and her home in Iraq, and now she has a new home. It’s safe in Australia, but Jamila is finding it hard to settle in. She misses her best friend and worries for her dad’s safety back in Iraq. It’s hard to speak and write in English all day. And Jamila has a secret she wants to keep hidden.

When she joins the choir, Jamila begins to feel happy. Singing helps take her worries away. And singing will help her find her place in her new life, a place where she can shine.

Songbird is a tender story about belonging, about the importance of friendship and asking for help, and about the parts of our lives we keep concealed.
Jamila has migrated to Australia from Baghdad Iraq, a country ravaged by conflict. In their quiet and humble Melbourne home, Jamila and her mother await the arrival of their father and husband from Baghdad, an investigative journalist taking shelter from the authorities. Feeling displaced and missing her homeland, Jamila attends school, translates English for her mother and helps care for her brother, often at the expense of attending school.

Jamila is gentle soul, her character is representative of Australia's diverse multiculturalism and the overwhelming feeling of being displaced. She wears a hijab, a traditional head covering that attracts questions from her peers and unfortunately, incidents of casual racism. Her heart aches for a real friend, someone she can talk to and share her fears about her father without judgement but attending a school that's predominately caucasian and born in Australia, she longs for her best friend Mina who she left behind in Iraq. Jamila seeks solace in the power of song, reminding her of her time in Iraq where she was affectionately known as the songbird. It's through her love of music where Jamila meets her first friend and new student Eva.

While Eva eases the ache of being in a new, unfamiliar country, Jamila still fears for her father and with no word on his arrival, fears the worst. I adored the friendship between Jamila and Eve, Eve is an Australian girl from Sydney who lives with her Aunt while her father works and befriends Jamila through their love of song. She's supportive and ensures Jamila feels comfortable and encourages her to share her experiences as a young girl in a new country. Although on a lesser scale, Eva understands Jamila's feelings of trying to fit in and with a predominant birthmark on her face, knows all too well the cruelty of other children.

Songbird is a beautiful narrative and exploration of the refugee experience through the eyes of a young girl aching to belong. In a country that preaches acceptance but rarely accepts migrants or those who are different, Jamila's mother felt this very deeply. With a small amount of English, she needed help navigating tasks like supermarket shopping and speaking to government departments, often calling the school during the day to pick Jamila up to assist her. I was so relieved for both her mother and Jamila when the Migrant Resource Centre reached out and she was able to connect to a support officer who not only understood but was also originally from Iraq. These services are so incredibly important to help refugees settle within Australia, a sector that needs more government funding to support our multicultural communities.

Songbird is absolutely lovely, a gentle narrative about acceptance, friendship and family. Achingly beautiful.


  1. These stories are so important, especially these days with all the controversy surrounding immigrants. Thank you for sharing. This sounds like a really beautiful book and written well.


    1. I couldn't agree more Lauren. Narratives like Songbird really serve to remind us of our own humanity and how we treat others who don't share the white and privileged identity. I can't even begin to imagine the trauma of fleeing my homeland only to begin my life again in a foreign country where everyone from strangers to government departments show me I'm not welcome. It's distressing but novels such as Songbird will help younger audiences develop compassion and empathy for others. It's such a beautiful and delicate read.

  2. I love that you're reviewing books like this one, with so much depth to them. I'd love to learn more about this journey Jamila has gone through,, especially about the "accepting" immigrants. Sounds really interesting, Kelly. Lovely review!
    Genesis @ Whispering Chapters

    1. It's such an amazing read and so desperately needed given how much intolerance and blatant racism migrants and refugees are facing all over the world.

  3. Oh my gumdrops, I love that cover!! <3


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