Julie Hunt, co-author of Tyenna, talks about the inspiration and key messaging in writing this first riveting title in a new segment of Allen & Unwin’s Through My Eyes series. Discover a unique wilderness in Tasmania through the eyes of Tyenna and be inspired to investigate this series further as future titles are published.
Anxiety is the currency of our times; social media and endless news footage give us no respite from pressing contemporary issues: the global pandemic, climate-change-generated extreme weather events, civil unrest and war. How to help young people develop resilience, hope and agency is a question with which parents, educators and mental health practitioners grapple. Story offers one possibility. Stories of children facing and successfully navigating challenging events.
Tyenna fits that brief as do all the Through My Eyes novels. The series was created by Lyn White with the idea of inspiring and informing young readers as they follow kids their own age into dangerous real-world situations. The first series looked at children in conflict zones and although I’m way beyond the target age group I can’t forget the main character in Emilio and everything I learned about crime in Mexico after his mother was kidnapped. The same goes for Shaozhen, a book from the next series which is about natural disasters. I could picture that village in China at the moment when the well ran dry, and feel what the character felt as he realised the implications. The stories are real, immediate and all too believable.
|Tyenna (2022) by Julie Hunt &
Allen & Unwin
Our book is the first in a new series set in Australia. The story takes place in the summer of 2019 when a series of dry lightning strikes started fires all over Tasmania. No human life was lost and only a few buildings were destroyed but over 200,000 hectares of bush was burned, much of it in world heritage areas.
Thirteen-year-old Tyenna loves pencil pines, bushwalking and hanging out with her best friend Lily. She arrives from Melbourne to stay with her grandparents in the Central Highlands of Tasmania expecting a fun summer holiday but the threat of fire changes everything and when she discovers a runaway boy hiding out and promises to keep quiet about his presence she finds herself facing a life and death dilemma.
Floods, fires, droughts, cyclones – as the planet gets warmer what were once one-off events are becoming alarmingly frequent. Add Covid to the mix and we seem to be lurching from one disaster to the next. We are certainly in a climate crisis and this week floods on the eastern seaboard were declared a national emergency. The future is uncertain and it’s a difficult time to be growing up. How to allay fear and give young people hope?
|Co-authors of Tyenna, Terry Whitebeach and Julie Hunt
© Image: Daniela Brozek
With Tyenna we tried to create a courageous and resourceful character who is torn between keeping her word and remaining loyal to her stalwart grandparents, a tense situation at any time but worse in the midst of an emergency. We hope the story will raise questions in the classroom and beyond, and will encourage creative thinking, both about immediate fire safety and in response to the pressing issue of climate change. We’re in the Pyrocene now, Tye reads in a text from her friend. To quote from the book:
‘The Earth hurtling into a new geological epoch. So much change in just a few decades – time speeding up. It’s certainly sped up for Tye and whirled her into a brand-new life... It’s only a year since Greta Thunberg first protested outside the Swedish parliament, and now teenagers the world over are organising school climate strikes. Hope lies only in action – that’s the Swedish girl’s message. Tye agrees.’
We gave our character agency through engagement. She helps with the community response during the fires despite her own private crisis, and she works to repair the damage afterwards.
The story has an upbeat ending. Tye plants a tiny pencil pine seedling, hoping it will not just survive but thrive. She has found her place in the world, working for the future and the challenges that lie ahead.
Tasmania children’s author
Editor's note: Watch a brief but informative introduction to the book by the authors and read a review of Tyenna.