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The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree

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The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree
by Lucille Abendanon
Pub Date 23 Jan 2024
North Star Editions |Jolly Fish Press
Children's Fiction| Historical Fiction| Middle Grade


Through North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press and Netgalley, I am reviewing The Songbird and the Rambutam Tree:


It was 1942 in Batavia, Dutch East Indies.


Emmy has the voice of an angel, but she hasn't sung since a family tragedy. In order to protect her, her father plans to send her to a singing school in England. Emmy wants to stay in Batavia with her best friend, Bakti, even if that means putting up with Violet, a snooty classmate. As war erupts in the Dutch East Indies, Emmy's world falls apart when the Japanese army invades.


As a result of her own actions, Emmy is captured and imprisoned in the Tjideng prisoner-of-war camp with other women and children. Separated from her family and friends, and silenced by her grief, Emmy will need all her strength to survive the war, find her voice, and regain her freedom after being separated from her family and friends.


I give The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree five out of five stars!


Happy Reading!

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Set during World War II, it's not your typical WWII historical fiction. It follows a young girl living in the Dutch East Indies, which is present-day Indonesia. Emmeline and her father are supposed to evacuate before things get worse as the Japanese are about to invade. Unfortunately, they don't get out in time, and what follows is heartbreaking, but we see tenacity and determination from Emmy as she fights to see a better day. While I know many counties were seeking independence during that time period, I know very little about the struggles endured. It was nice to see Emmy grow and see the struggles of the native population and realize her previous privilege, as well as come out of the other side of her own painful experience as a kind and gracious person.

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This was such a phenomenal read! I love historical fiction and this was a perspective I have never heard before. The book examines the Japanese invasion of 1942 of the Dutch East Indies. I was fascinated to read about how the native people thought the Japanese were there to save them. As a white female who mostly grew up in the Dutch East Indies, Emmy had her own unique perspective. I really appreciated how she came to see things from others points of views as she went through her own experiences. I would definitely say this book is for older adolescents, with descriptions of concentration camps and harsh conditions, but it is so eye opening and a very important read. The writing is beautiful and descriptive and I was enthralled from start to finish.

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Amidst whispers of war coming, Emmy is just a young girl growing up already facing loss and tragedy. Here are my Top 5 Reasons to Read:
This book beautifully depicts how our lives can change in the blink of an eye.
When introducing children to historical fiction dealing with war, it is helpful to think of the famous quote, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” The Songbird and the Rambutana allows children today to connect with experiences of children in the past in an authentic and lasting way that will allow them to learn.
While so many World War II historical fiction novels are set in the Western world, this book expands its horizons into the South Pacific region.
This beautiful story deals with heavy topics but creates a safe and empathetic environment for young readers to explore deeper into the perils of war.
Woven throughout the novel are reminders of the beauty of human nature and that even in the worst of times, a song can lift our souls.

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This story is why I keep coming back to middlegrade books. They explore difficult topics and show how resilient young teens can be.

The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree follows Emmy and her friends as they see a war being waged on their island and does a good job of exploring privilege and social segregation.

Abendanon uses the history of Batavia to set up her plot and uses historical references to ensure that her readers can understand what is happening and how these events would have affected the ones who went through it.

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Intriguing story, for the setting, if not always for the execution. We're on Java in 1942, and the story starts with the news the Japanese army and navy are just in Singapore – the last conquer they needed before the oil fields of Batavia are theirs. Emmy is in the title, ironically, as a songbird, though seeing as her mother has died and killed a lot of her passion with her, she really cannot put two notes together any longer. This comes as an acceptance at a singing school in the UK is received, and just as she really ought to be fleeing the imminent invasion to get there, or to safety elsewhere, she decides she cannot part with her mother's grave, and dare not sacrifice her life there for the more mundane one in Europe.

Alternatively, this is a story where two ideologies battle. It's a story of wokeness versus baseness, as Emmy finds bigotry against Japanese unimaginable, where she rides third class alongside the house boy she's befriended because colonialism is bad, and is nowhere near as snooty towards the locals. And all this at least shows the naivety of the character, ignorant of how privileged she is with her businessman father, and someone who is not a Javan by dint of heritage, colour, experience of travel, ability to flee, ability to get a government-funded air-raid shelter, and so much more. I think you can see what a heck of a lot of the intentions here already are...

Well, once you get forced the lesson that being woke is dangerous, worth fighting for and potentially fatally isolating, what happens is a big switcheroo – the Japanese do invade (to "liberate" the locals from European presence), and Emmy is dumped in an internment camp. And here the merits of all this really shine, for beyond all the strong levels of readability so far, this is even more engaging – the fact we're reading about camps in a corner of the world we never consider much, the way we see the war from a standpoint and in a locale so many many books choose to ignore or neglect. Once we've had it confirmed this is a debut book – it seldom seems like it – we also see it is a novelised version of what happened to our own author's grandmother (spoiler alert – the fact she still uses the same surname as her character suggests some kind of happy ending).

This isn't allowed – or rather real life didn't allow – the story to be a misery memoir of life as a PoW, however, for some audacious twists open things up and keep the whole thing dramatic to the end. So while swathes of the earlier chunks seemed intent on portraying a liberal, modern bent on things where empires, race issues etc etc were concerned, this is still without question a distinctive title. How much is completely true here (considering the character is ten years younger than that in reality) is for conjecture only; the bulk of this is for a pleasurable read, and it delivers.

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Top 5 Reasons to Read❣️ The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree.❣️

5️⃣ It takes place in a totally different continent and era than you’re in right now.

4️⃣ It is written so beautifully!

3️⃣ It has drama, but also such a resilient FMC (female main character)

2️⃣ It is what I’m now going to call a savory book, not because it isn’t sweet, but because I wanted to savor each page.

1️⃣ It is a middle grade historical fiction, which means even kids can read it. It takes place during WWII but not where you are used to hearing stories about. It’s just refreshing to read a WWII story from such a different perspective for the character.

🤩Extra: If you love singing, and learning about new places and times in history, or if you just love beautiful stories, this is for you🥰

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"The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree" is a masterfully adapted historical fiction novel that educates, enlightens, and entertains. It is a must-read for middle school students seeking to understand the human impact of World War II and the enduring life of one remarkable young girl and her quest for family, love and kindness. Despite the unimaginable circumstances she faces, Emmy's voice resonates with authenticity and courage, making her story both relatable and inspiring for young readers. The narrative skillfully captures the complexities of Emmy's relationships with her family members and fellow occupants of the war camp, as well as her dreams, fears, and aspirations. The novel offers valuable opportunities for middle school students to engage with themes of identity, prejudice, and empathy. Emmy's experiences serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of standing up against injustice and intolerance, making it a relevant and thought-provoking read for readers of all ages.

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The Songbird and the Rambutan tree.
The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree was such a beautiful book. It talks about Lucille Abendanon's grandmother's journey in Batavia as she was taken to a Japanese camp, with a few twists and turns! It was so much better than I could have possibly imagined, and I cried toward the end when I read it.When the cruel Captain Sonei ordered everyone to bow,I trembled in fear and hate. When Emmeline plotted her escape, I quivered in excitement.It was a book with such intrigue, and a journey of an up and down rollercoaster of emotions! And I must recommend it to everyone,even those who don't typically like historical fiction.Because this book is absolutely amazing and totally necessary for everyone to read,and the writing style,the present tense writing style was the first I'd read in that format, and I don't regret picking up this book.Emmy's journey was that of energy, defiance, friendships and beauty, and Emmeline Abendanon is a truly inspiring character to have braved and survived the Japanese war camps at the age of twelve! I rate this book, 10.5/10
This is an honest and voluntary review that I thoroughly stick to!💕

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I enjoyed reading this middle-grade historical fiction. It was a different perspective on WWII than I’ve ever read about before, and I liked that. The author did a great job of describing the setting and Emmy’s emotions so that I felt like I was in Batavia and Tjideng along with her. Emmy’s strength and loyalty were great, and I thought her character growth was done really well.
In the beginning I did find Emmy to be a bit naive and a bit annoying at times. She was so determined to get her way, but she didn’t consider the bigger picture. Throughout the story, her character experiences a role reversal as she’s locked up in Tjideng, and this gives her a new perspective to consider. She recognizes her selfish actions, and I’m glad that she got a chance to talk with Bakti and reconcile in the end.
The writing style was easy to follow along with, and though the story touches briefly upon some of the dark elements of war, it keeps it light enough that middle-grade readers won’t be too upset. There were a couple of time jumps but they were handled well and I enjoyed getting to see the end of the war and what happened to Emmy afterwards.
I also liked the author’s note at the end about her Oma Emmy and the parts of the story that were true and the parts that were fictionalized.

CWs: prisoner of war, torture (starved, tied up, lashes mentioned but no explicit description), colonization, war, death of a parent

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have read a number of middle grade books set in World War II, however none set in Indonesia like this wonderfully written story.

Emmy (Emmeline Abendanon) is eleven, she lives with her parents, her maid and her maids son in Batavia.
Emmy is looked at as a coloniser however she respects the culture and land she is in and embraces it as her own.
Everything is happy in her world until Japan invades and she is sent to a refugee camp. She has to summon all the strength and courage she has to find a way back to her old life and the people she loves.

This is an extremely well researched historical fiction book. The book is based on a true story of a Dutch girl living in Indonesia during World War II (the author’s grandmother). Such an interesting read to see the war through a child’s eyes.

It is a beautiful inspiring tale with wonderful descriptions which transport you fully into the story.

There are definitely a number of extremely emotional parts in the book so be ready to potentially shed a tear, I know I did. But the characters bravery and courage shines through. The book also reminds readers that good will shine through even in the most difficult of times.

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The Songbird and the Rambutan Tree by @lucilleabendanon_author
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t give 5 stars lightly, but this book was worth it. It’s a juvenile/middle grade historical fiction based on the author’s grandma and her experience in the Dutch East Indies during WW2 when the Japanese Army invaded their country. It is a beautifully written and emotionally compelling story. She obviously took some creative liberties while writing, but I also loved reading (at the end) when she explains what she kept the same versus what she changed. This was a side of WW2 I hadn’t read about yet and that (along with the beautiful cover) is what drew me into wanting to read this book. This will definitely become a must read for my kids.
It just came out a little over a week ago, so if you want to read it you should be able to find it available in most places.
Thank you @netgalley & @northstareditions for an ARC ebook in exchange for my honest review.
#netgalley #debutauthor #goodreads #thesongbirdandtherambutantree #literarypearlsof24 #bookstagram

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This story provided an interesting account of colonization and war, a historical fiction retelling of the experiences of Dutch colonizers of Indonesia during World War II. The main character, Emmy, suffers a great personal loss with the death of her mother, followed immediately by the loss of the only home she knows with the attack of the Japanese army on the Dutch East Indies. The book follows Emmy's experience as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp and her emotional realization of her former privilege, now taken by her Japanese captors. The author delved deep into a difficult and complicated historical reality, telling the story in a way that was understandable and meaningful for child readers.

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This is a very poignant and heartbreaking story about family, friendship and identity. What's more, it's a personal story from author's grandmother who was imprisoned during WW2. While I adore the story for what it is, I also can't help but it's obviously biased. It is written from the Western perspective for a Western audience, erasing parts of the cruelty of the colonization and some choice of words show the bias of the allies views. And if it's in the story part, I could overlook it but these views are present at the end, when the author attempted to talk about the historical events that happened. For example, the author wrote how by the time Japan came, there was a "thriving Dutch community". But they are not; the author should call it as it is which are colonialist settlements.

If rating solely by the fiction part and the writing, it will be 4 stars. If rating for the themes/historical context, it will be 1 because of the bias. As it is a mix of both, it's 3 stars from me.

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This middle grade historical fiction book is well written putting the reader in the midst of the story. It’s so powerful and heartfelt, you can’t help but become fully immersed. The interment camp in Batavia is written as a traumatic event, I can’t imagine actually being there.

With great pacing, it is both gripping and irresistible to put down. Through the eyes of children, it gave a fresh and innocent perspective. The growth among the cast is remarkable. The additional aspect of a found family while bonding in the camp put the cherry on top of the sundae for me. This is not all sunshine and roses, plenty of heartbreaking moments ensue, making it very emotional.

This is a work of fiction based on real life.

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I don't normally gravitate to Historical Novels but this book intrigued me as Tenko was mentioned and I remembered the TV programme so I applied to go on the blog tour.


This story was so powerful while reading it I went through so many emotions from laughter to tears to utter shock and back to tears so much so I literally had a book hangover and had to wait to get my thoughts together.

Emmy was such a strong character and it floored me when I read the Author's Notes which everyone needs to read to see how much detail Lucille had used to research in my view a masterpiece of Middle Grade and it is her debut which actually shook me.

I am being deliberate in not mentioning anything about the plot or characters as I feel the less you know the more this story will captivate you.

For all the above reasons I am giving this wonderful book 5 stars and I will be looking forward to see what Lucille does next

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The first thing that got my attention was the title because it had the rambutan word in it. For any of you who don't know what rambutan is, I tell you. Rambutan is a type of fruit that only exists in the tropics country and I believe it comes from Indonesia. As an Indonesian, of course, it'd take my interest. I thought the story must be set in Indonesia, and I was right! This book is set in Batavia, (known as Jakarta in this modern era which is the capital city of Indonesia) in 1942, which is 3 years before the independent day. So technically, this book is talking about the war that happened before Indonesians claimed their right.

Now, what this book is about? It's about Emmy, an eleven-year-old Dutch girl who lives in Batavia with her parents, Ibu Lia—her maid, and Bakti—Ibu Lia's son. Emmy lives happily with all that she has until that day when Japan invades. Everything has changed. She's sent by the Japanese soldiers to a camp refugee where all children and women are being put in. A lot of things happened in that camp and the worst thing is they separated her from her father. Determined to escape and to find where her father and all that she loves could be, Emmy has done many things that a little girl is impossible to do.

I LOVE this book! After studying the history of my country during wartime, I know how bad it was and I think this book describes it well but with more subtle reminding this book is aimed at middle graders. Recommend this book to every reader, especially those who want to learn about Indonesian history in a "fun" way.

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I was initially drawn to this story because I don't think I've ever read a book set in Indonesia during World War II. I was hooked from the beginning. This is excellent historical fiction. The author based this book on her grandmother's experiences during the war, and you could feel the love and admiration she holds for her throughout the story. Emmy is an amazing protagonist. So strong and courageous. This book is a great example of how we can become our best selves when everything is stripped away from us. She goes through so much in this book, but it never breaks her.

I loved the relationships in this story. The found family in the concentration camp is one of the best things about this book. The way they all help each other was beautiful. I also adore Bakti and Emmy's friendship, and the frenemies to best friends relationship between Emily and Violet. They were all incredibly inspiring and gave me hope that most people are good and that the good can shine through in the darkest of places. I think this is why I'm so drawn to stories written in this period - I need to see that goodness, courage, and bravery.

This is one of those books that you will not be able to put down. The writing is lush and compelling, and you're going to want to read "just one more chapter" until suddenly you look up and you are not in Batavia, but your own home, and oops, you read the whole book in one sitting. This is a middle-grade story, but it has universal appeal. I think it would make an excellent read-aloud.

Because there are some very harrowing moments, I'd recommend this one for ages 10+

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An adventurous middle-grade story set during WW2 on the Dutch-colonized island of Java. We follow 12-year-old Emmy, who gains the will to survive and even save those she loves during the Japanese occupation of her home, while coming to terms with her own complicity in colonial oppression of Java.

The book is well-written and Emmy is a likable, realistic character. Her journey from naivety to growing up happens gradually over the course of the novel.

A content warning, but also minor spoiler - a good chunk of the book takes place in a prisoner camp. The author shies away from the worst horrors - almost to the point of being too sanitized (for example, no beatings are ever mentioned, despite that being a common feature of the camp), though hunger and disease are quite present. The book is inspired by the author's own grandmother's experiences.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to kids and adults alike looking to expand their horizons in history.

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This book was so good, even if I forgot until partway through that the blurb mentioned that its set in a Japanese PoW camp in Indonesia, so it caught me off-guard even if it shouldn't have. It was very intense and sad and beautiful all at the same time.

While yes it is technically a middle grade book, its middle grade in the same way The Book Thief is YA. I think its a wonderful read for all ages, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it to young kids, probably 12 and up, because while I think learning about history and wars are important, it did have quite violent scenes (for a kids book) and scenes of very harsh punishment.
The themes however are very relevant for kids today. It discusses racism, colonisation, imperialism, the brutality and unfairness of war, grief, along with the expected kids themes of friendship, family, and identity.

The characters were all great and complex, especially Emmy, Violet, and Bakti (although even the minor characters were nuanced) and the relationships between all the characters felt very real.

It reminded me quite a lot of Eva Ibbotson's books, with its themes of friendship intertwined with darker themes of war and xenophobia.

Very, very good book and I will definitely be recommending it.

Thank you NetGalley for sending me the eArc

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