Little Paradise


Teacher’s Notes

Little Paradise is published by Penguin Books Australia

Click here to watch the Book Trailer

As Mirabel watched him she couldn’t bear the thoughts creeping up on her. J J was in the Chinese army and his mission in Australia would one day be over. Then she would be just like the others, a girl left behind in the wake of war.

I‘m afraid,’ she whispered. ‘When the war ends…what’s going to happen to us? He put his arm around her and stroked her face. She knew he could not answer that question. But she wanted him to lie, to say that he would take her with him, that they would be together always.

Melbourne, 1946, and Mirabel is seventeen. She’s leaving school, designing dresses, falling in love. Then fate intervenes, her forbidden affair is discovered, and J J is posted back to China where a civil war is raging. Despite all warnings, Mirabel sets off for Shanghai to find him…


Click here to listen to Gabrielle talk about Little Paradise with Richard Baillie 2MCE

Click here to listen to Gabrielle talk about Little Paradise with Kieran Weir ABC 639


“Often, while reading a book, a single word will circulate in my mind. This word usually sums up my overall feeling about the novel itself. The word that continually whispered in my subconscious whilst reading Gabrielle Wang’s- Little Paradise, was effortless. Much has been written about World War Two, both fiction and non-fiction. It is rare though, to discover a novel that chooses to focus on life in Australia during this time. Gabrielle Wang has approached her story from a unique and refreshing perspective. The central setting of the novel is Melbourne- Australia and the protagonist, is an Australian born Chinese girl, Mirabel (Lei An). As a reader, we are afforded a detailed look into Mirabel’s private world, as the war shapes and changes not only the culture and environment surrounding her, but her own personal growth and view of the world. Little Paradise is a rich, lush novel. There are so many intertwining story lines and situations, characters and cultures. Often when there is so much happening in the plot and subplot of a novel, it can be all too easy for a reader to become confused and have trouble keeping track of all that is unfolding. Gabrielle makes the following of her intricate story lines both seamless, effortless and immensely rewarding. Gabrielle has done a stunning job of unveiling the history of Melbourne and Shanghai in the 1940’s and has managed to interweave some fine details of Chinese Culture both in Australia and China in the process. In fact, the history woven into the fabric that comprises Little Paradise, is so beautifully done, the novel is a mini history lesson in itself. The characters and scenes are so vividly described and beautifully composed, one feels as though they are there amidst the pages, watching a living, breathing painting, rather than reading text on a page. So many of the characters in Little Paradise so quickly, became dear to me. I found myself often holding my breath in anticipation, laughing aloud, furrowing my brow in determination and shedding more than a few tears for these characters, so real were they to me. I have to confess my adoration for Great Auntie May, I could literally see each and every line on her kind, smiling face. The opportunities for teaching and discussion contained within Little Paradise and boundless. It would make a wonderful class text for Year 10 and onward and a spectacular choice for a book club. Having said this, it is also a must- have title on the library shelf and is quite suitable for all Secondary school readers. This book became dear to me for another reason. I was compelled to do something with Little Paradise that I don’t often do. In fact have not done in the last year, save for two other titles. (They were- Five Parts Dead and The Pipers Son) I took it everywhere I went. Carried it with me around my house, seizing opportunities to read a few pages whilst cooking, waiting on hold and doing other tasks. Carried it with me when I left the house, reading in the car and while waiting in line whilst shopping. It may seem silly, but for me, there is no higher compliment I can pay a book. And Little Paradise is deserving of so much more than any compliment I can pay it.” ~ Tye Cattanach, The Book Gryffin

“Hi Gabrielle,
I am just half way through your novel Little Paradise and I am in love! Your writing is so beautiful and it brings tears to my eyes at times, I love Mirabel- She is so sweet and beautiful and JJ is such a wonderful young man!! I think Little Paradise is probably the best story on first love that I have EVER read and I am a bit of a bookworm.”~Sue

“Dear Gabrielle Wang,
WOW. I just finished your book I started reading it late last night, and finished it at about midday! Your book Little Paradise is amazing, and I smiled right along with Mirabel, and my heart ached as she cried I felt everything she did. Such a compelling read. I recommend that all who cross it, read it. Congratulations on an amazing job!”~Emili

“Gabrielle Wang’s new young adult novel contains many of the hallmarks readers have come to expect from her work, most typically, a strong emphasis on traditional Chinese culture. However, it is grander in scope than her previous novels, and has the feel of an epic wartime saga, spanning generations and continents. The fantastical element is also more subdued, just tangible enough to give the book a thrilling tinge of magic and destiny.”~Leonie Jordan, Little Paradise was been selected as one of Bookseller and Publisher’s top YA picks for March-May Children’s Reviews.

“Mirabel is a Chinese girl in wartime Melbourne. Her family has been in Australia since the gold rushes, but they are still Chinese, in culture and lifestyle, and her father is a strong supporter of the Nationalist government back home. When Chinese soldier Jin Jing — JJ — arrives from Shanghai, Mirabel knows she is in love. When JJ is posted back to China, Mirabel follows and so does adventure. Little Paradise is a very visual story which fully deserves to be turned into a film or TV mini-series. I read some of it to my literacy class of mostly immigrant students. They loved it, but although most of my class was female, the audience I thought might most enjoy this book, it was the young man who asked if he might borrow and finish it. Who’d have thought a boy would like it so much? Little Paradise is a lovely, gentle story, beautifully-written and well worth buying, whether for yourself or your teenager.”~ Sue Bursztynski January Magazine Best Books for 2010

“Little Paradise takes us on an emotional, touching and, at times, thrilling journey through aspects of our history that may for many of us, be unexplored … Beyond the enjoyment of the story, Gabrielle Wang’s new novel captures a strong sense of a pocket of our multi-cultural community whilst also offering us an opportunity to see that the act of ‘telling our own stories’ can also be an act of telling the stories of the world.”~ Chris Thompson, Viewpoint Magazine

“Gabrielle Wang, Little Paradise (teenage fiction) is a reader’s paradise: a love story drawn from life with emotional colour, taut brushwork and a perfect degree of tension. The drama between the two young lovers, Mirabel, the Australian-born daughter of a Chinese fruit merchant, and JJ, the handsome Kuomintang officer, unfolds with conviction against the backdrop of World War II in Melbourne, with its influx of American sailors and dance halls and the privations and political manoeuvrings in once-glamorous Shanghai as the corrupt Nationalist government falls to the Communists. Beautifully written and structured, the novel begins and ends with a visit to a Chinese soothsayer but seamlessly blends Mirabel’s love for dress design and love for JJ with the vicissitudes of family life in Australia and China, attitudes to foreigners, the plight of Jews, the question of respectability and the unmarried mother, and the motif of a white cat and the music of birds.”~ Helene Chung, Australian journalist and author.

“I have just finished reading your awesome book Little Paradise! This book is such an inspiration! I think that Little Paradise is a must read for every teenage girl. It reminded me to never give up on hope, love and dreams. Thank You.”~ Yantie

“Little Paradise accomplished the impossible. It has intertwined love and war together in a spell-binding plot. Little Paradise is one of the most compelling and romantic stories I’ve read. It’s extraordinary to imagine that a few words could make me so sad for something that isn’t real and so happy for someone I’ve never met.”Richard Huyun, Year Ten

To The Point Book Reviews


Little Paradise was inspired by my mother who, as a young woman, grew up in Melbourne during the 30’s and 40’s when Australia and its people were coming of age. Much of what takes place in the novel sticks closely to the truth. But in other places, I used my imagination to meld fact and fiction. This is necessary to give a novel dramatic drive. Many people ask me which parts are real and which are invented and it’s very hard to say unless I’m asked a specific question. For example the Hiroshima scene was real but there was no Frogface Tan.

I have interlaced the real with the imaginary.

There is also a magical element – a soothsayer, a prediction written on an oracle bone:  ‘Dressing the dead, A treasure not wed, Lost on the sea, To fortune you’ll flee’.


I love this cover, especially so because it is an actual studio shot of my mum when she was 20. On the back cover is a fashion illustration that she did when she was just 14 years old. The end papers also feature my mum’s illustrations.

Here is the original photo the cover was taken from.

Mum in qi pao

And here is a photo of her when she was 14 and a selection of drawings from her drawing book that she did around the same age.

My mother drew all the time as a child. When she left school she studied fashion illustration at RMIT. She didn’t want to study fashion design because, like in the novel, she couldn’t be bothered with learning how to draft patterns. All she wanted to do was design clothes.

She also used to make these cutout models to dress up.
This is Alma on the day of my interview in Adelaide with her. She was my mother’s pen friend. In Little Paradise I renamed her Eva.

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LITTLE PARADISE can be purchased as an e-book online