As we lay down on the bare ground, the night closed in and I felt Emily secretly cringing. She whispered, ‘I wish…I wish we had a lantern.’
   ‘There’s nothing here to hurt us,’ I said, ‘nothing but the river and the trees.’
   ‘And the sky,’ Emily ventured. ‘I can see the morning star.’
   Together we sang softly, an old old chant that had come down to us through the centuries.
   Moon light, star bright.
   I wish I may, I wish I might,
   Have the wish I wish tonight.

At last Emily’s breathing evened out and I held my hat against my cheek. To soothe myself I imagined myself at home in the garden planting things. The black soil of the flood plain came easily. But the sea…I must not allow myself to think of the sea. Page 72-73.

Leila has the seeds her mother has given her. She has her velvet hat and an iron will inherited from her father. But are these enough to overcome the odds when she is flung into a world of chaos and loss in the aftermath of a war strike against her beloved city of Morwena?

Leila dreams of finding sweet water and planting a garden but she makes an unshakable pact with herself to find Bonnie. Will her obsession with finding Bonnie destroy any chance of a normal life? What of her friendship with Emily and her soul mate Jake who would give her love? What of the handsome Stefan whose intellect and charm attract her?

Andre songs bring light to the darkness and give him the will to go on, but why has his Zara the beautiful drummer girl turned away from him? And who is the Rick who has taken her away from him? Is the likeable youth worker offering Andre real work and a chance for him to be reunited with his sisters, Leila and Bonnie? Or will Rick lead him into a strange web of intrigue, of deceit and betrayal?  

Bonnie has her feather quilt but no voice. No voice for the people who rescue her. In her inner sea of loneliness and longing she remembers the song her mother sang and the arms of a loving family but is it enough to give her back the will to live?

Can her feisty companion – a boy called Tyke, half brother to Zara, lead her to a safer place? Or will the children perish?

This is the story of three siblings, their loves, their hates, their dreams and disappointments, their sorrows and their joys as they search for each other and attempt to build a life with their peers and to find an authentic place with their fellow citizens in Westland.

Suggested Activities for Writers

If you would like to try some writing activities that relate to a story like Children of Morwena, feel free to try some of the suggestions in Helene Smith’s Writer’s Notebook for Children of Morwena.

From the Author

Every day in the summer before I began this story I saw them on the river near my home: children swinging across the water and leaping from a rope they had tied to a tall river gum or diving from a sheoak.  Perching on the branches they adorned the tree like so many birds.

Full of laughter and banter, the young voices echoed across the water. Their joy in the moment was beautiful and I couldn’t help wondering what their futures would be. At that time five years before the story was published in 2002, every night on television, there came the shocking images of children, orphaned by war, fleeing from their homelands that no longer offered them security or comfort. In spite of international aid, they had to survive on their own, relying on each other and their own wits. Since that date there have been countless other instances of children left to fend for themselves after war or natural disasters – tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods. It sometimes takes years before their stories are told.

Teenagers, Leila, Andre and their young sister, Bonnie are children of the future who live in an imaginary land called Westland but they are the children on the river. They are the children of Africa, Bosnia, Lebanon, Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq. They live in the present day. They could be children of the future. They are precious.


Smith creates a unique post-apocalyptic world …the novel’s strength lies in the exploration of what it means to belong. Ronda Poultney- Viewpoint

An empowering story, cosmic in concept, symbolic of those issues which threathen the healthy survival of young people. This gripping tale captures the reader’s soul. Essential reading for every adolescent facing the 21st Century.  Doctor Patricia Sherwood in Viewpoint

Reviews by Readers

Age 13+ Children of Morwena is set in the future. When this story of survival and friendship begins, Leila and her family are happily living in a world very different from the one we know today.

Leila then finds herself alone when her family members are killed or separated by the Technocrats, a terror from the north. The children are sent away from Morwena before disaster strikes, but in the panic they become separated. The parents are never seen again.

The story unfolds as Leila searches for her sister Bonnie, whom she feels is alive and in a refuge for children. Leila battles many hardships in her search, including facing the ferls – feral young people who fend for themselves, often with violence, on the streets. The ‘lost’ children of Morwena are shunned by many people in the surrounding areas – as many refugees are in today’s society.

Parallel to Leila’s search is the story of Bonnie, who is fostered to an unkind household, and also the situations of their cousins and friends from Morwena. From street busking to ‘forced’ commune work in a drug plantation, Children of Morwena s a story of survival.

The book addresses issues of love and belonging in a hard world and of never giving up hope.

I first thought this was just another futuristic science fiction novel and was not keen to start. However, once I started reading the book, I found it to be very entertaining. I feel it will have a place on the library shelf for early adolescent readers.

CB, St Stephen’s School, Carramar Campus

In a world destroyed by war and pollution, people live without most of the modern conveniences, and weapons are banned. One nation, however, has broken the pact, and has launched a massive weapon of mass destruction, destroying the city of Morwena. In the aftermath of this devastating attack, the survivors struggle to find family and friends in a strange country that doesn’t want them. Leila and Andre are two orphans of Morwena, searching for their little sister and friends, lost in the panicked rush to escape.

Children of Morwena is a futuristic novel, written in 1st person prose, from the point of view of Leila, one of the main characters. I would recommend this book to anyone from about nine to ten years onward, as it is easy to read, and is written in a good text size.

Bryan, aged 14, Canberra, ACT