Values: Compassion, Empathy, Love, Hope, Kindness, Determination, and Trust.
If you are a primary teacher or parent/carer of a primary-aged child and you do not have this on your bookshelf, you are really missing out. It is a sensitive and powerful picture book depicting the journey that refugees embark upon once they decide to leave home. Francesca Sanna was inspired to write this book after meeting two refugee girls who told her their story. She then went on to talk to more and more refugee children and families with a view of educating people about the journeys migrants take based on the recounts of honest and personal journeys she heard.
There are some difficult themes in the book and ones that we should be discussing with children. At the start of the story, the family enjoys living in the city and weekends at the beach. But then the war comes, destroys homes and lives, and takes the father of the family. You poignantly see his possessions in the middle of a black page. The Values of compassion and empathy come early in this book. The war is personified as large, black, grabbing hands that is ripping away people and belongings. The once-orderly streets are shown as chaotic and broken. Talking about this imagery with children can be very powerful and you can have conversations about how they might feel if war came and destroyed everything they knew. There are lots of little details that children can and will notice too. Sanna includes a powerful double page spread which reads, "Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried." with the accompanying image of the mother holding her two children close - all of them with their eyes closed - whilst gigantic hands grab at them. At the forefront of the page is a family portrait showing of better times. Children as young as Year 3 can see the metaphor of the war as the hands, and the word darker evoking feelings of sadness and despair.
We see the mother explaining to her children that they need to go somewhere safer. The imagery of the speech bubble as the mountains and lots of tiny people making the treacherous journey through difficult landscapes is emotive. You can talk to children at this point about determination. Why will this journey be difficult? Why will they need to show perseverance? Why is the mother willing to take her children on a dangerous and unpredictable journey?
The book continues with the mother and her children making a long and arduous journey, travelling in strangers' vehicles and facing guards at border controls. The image that overwhelmingly runs like a thread through the book is the protective nature of the mother. She holds them close and tells them they will reach safety soon, but when the children sleep we see the mother's tears fall. There are so many Values you can discuss with children as you watch these scenes beautifully unfold - love, kindness, hope and trust to name a few.
After crossing land and sea, the three reach a shoreline which is shown with a little lighthouse. They board a train and the mother explains that they are close to their safe place. We don't see where the family end up, but we see the child gazing at birds who also migrate, but, unlike humans, do not face border controls. The metaphor is drawn in hoping that one day humans will be free to find safety in the same way birds are. Although the ending is hopeful for this family, it is obvious that there is uncertainty ahead too.
This is an Amnesty-endorsed book and lesson plans can be found on their website. It is based on a collection of true stories of underage migrants and can teach our children so much about a life that other children have been forced to live. Immigration is a current and pressing issue across Europe and this book sensitively allows open discussion about how the children in these families may feel, and why the parents may have made the decision to flee everything they know. I believe it could be used across primary schools and into secondary schools, and different children would take different messages from it.
The book is created with an almost fairy-tale vibe, but this doesn't take away the emotive or modern nature of the story. Children could easily explore the book without the words to begin with and infer what is happening from the powerful imagery. Francesca Sanna has created a book that is timeless and important. Buy your copy through the Waterstones website or any other book seller. You will not regret it! Follow the author on Twitter: @Frenci_San
Undoubtedly one for the Values bookshelf! Use the hashtags to identify my reviews of books on this blog that also contain these Values: