The Journey is an amazing and important picture book by author and illustrator Francesca Sanna. It tells from a refugee story from a chid’s perspective. A girl and her family are forced to flee their homes by war. The story tells of their difficult journey to safety. The honesty with which it portrays the darkness of their experience and emotions such as: loss, despair, fear is breathtaking. It deals with a theme which is all around us, and has such a huge significance today.
It makes clever use of colour and illustrations to reflect changing emotions and circumstances. Orange hues are used for hope, and they are the colour of the car at the start of their journey and the train towards the end. Blackness represents the darkest of moments. And there is none darker than:
And one day the war took my father
The blackness conveys what words alone could not, and the orange of hope on subsequent pages propels you forward.
I had an interesting discussion with a friend about The Journey. We were in agreement that it is a book that should be in every school library. But, we could not quite decide if there was a little too much darkness. The darkness in the first part of this story is what makes it so powerful and I would not have it any other way. Then they arrive at the sea and colour comes back into the pictures and there is hope. Then on their boat journey fear comes back again. It was the picture below that got us thinking.
Some questions we asked were:
What is the effect on the reader from going from a place of darkness to hope and then to be plunged back into darkness again? Would this be too much for some children? What would have been the effect on the reader if instead this page was mainly light and warm hopeful colours with a smaller amount of black? Would the story be the same?
These are questions worth thinking about when sharing this book with children. The recent events of the EU referendum vote in Britain have sharpened my focus. Having thought about the picture I realised it would have been odd if Francesca Sanna had represented this part of the journey in any other way. The sad reality is that refugee journeys on boats are dangerous and they must have many fears both real and imagined of what they may face at the other end. Furthermore some children will have heard in the news about these difficult boat crossings and children dying. I think the breathtaking honesty of this story will resonate with many children, and especially older children who are beginning to take note of the world we live in. Aside from its key theme of refugees: a families flight from war to safety, there are also many powerful life messages. The journey from an awful place to somewhere that has the potential to be good can be difficult and up and down (get better then worse again) but ultimately hopeful.
There is also a second and beautiful story in this book. Where in the later stages of the story the girl and her family are joined by migratory birds flying alongside them. Then there is a beautiful scene at the end of them flying with these birds, into a new and more hopeful future. This last page opens up so many other topics that could be explored.