There are those who celebrate making the trip from one room of the house to another. There are visits to the doctor, dentist or hospital we dread our entire lives. As children we have to go places we would never choose to go as a child (or an adult) but we go because our parents insist. There are vacations we wish would last twice as long for the experience is full of new people, places and things. Short drives, perhaps not even an hour out of our day, can fill us with a sadness which never truly leaves.
During the course of our lives when we move from one house to another, from one city to another or from one state to another, it is usually by choice. To fear living in your own country and in the only home you have ever known and forced to flee would be a terrifying trip. The Journey (Flying Eye Books, September 13, 2016) written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna chronicles a family's flight.
I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach.
Now they cannot go to the beach. War has come to their country. Nothing is as it used to be. The bad times get worse when the girl's family loses her father to the war.
Saddened, worried and on the advice of a friend, the mother makes plans to travel to another country, a great distance from their home, a place with high mountains. The children are curious and the mother tries to show them through pictures of this country far safer than their own. All their possessions are packed in suitcases.
They leave in their own car in the dead of night. They move from place to place day after day, changing modes of transportation. The farther they move from home the fewer possessions they still have. When they arrive at the border there are an enormous wall and a fearsome guard ordering them away.
Hiding in the dark forest, their only comfort is their mother's arms. Loud voices filled with anger wake them up. The guards are after them! Running as fast as fear will carry them; hope suddenly appears and assists them. A perilous journey across the sea, in treacherous weather, lasts for far too many days aboard a vessel with far too many people. Even when they eventually reach land, they are not yet safe...but they will be.
A profound and powerful story has been penned by Francesca Sanna. By the second sentence you get a clear sense of impending doom when she says:
...we used to spend...
With the third sentence it is confirmed. Sanna conveys the darkness, despair, fear and determination with few words but they are carefully chosen.
There are never more than five sentences with each image; usually only one sentence. You are with this family every portion of their journey. You are cheering inwardly for their success but are well aware of the realities of this situation through Sanna's writing. To make the story more personal for readers there is a flawless mix of first person narration and dialogue. Here is a sample passage.
The boat rocks and rocks as the waves grow bigger and bigger. It feels like the sea will never end. We tell each other new stories. Stories about the land we are heading to, where the big green forests are filled with kind fairies that dance and give us magic spells to end the war.
Taking a cue from all the elementary children who entered my library over the years, the first thing this book asks me to do is run my hands over the book case. The spine is cloth with white birds soaring upward from branches on either side. If you study the illustration on the front you can see tiny figures which show the mother and children running from the war, traveling to the wall and meeting the fearsome guard, getting help, riding over the sea and traveling by train to their destination. Birds, well known for their seasonal migrations, follow them. The suitcases signify the beginning of their trip with their mother packing the book about the safe place. To the left, on the back, beneath text you would most likely read on the front and back flaps, is a similar stack of suitcases with only a cat resting on one of them.
The opening and closing endpapers if placed side by side show the journey to the sea and beyond to freedom. An Author's note has been placed on the left side, the sea, of the closing endpaper. One leg of their journey, traveling in another man's van filled with jars, is shown on the title page. The limited color palette; shades of red, black, green, golden yellow, brown and blue work very well to convey the emotional trauma of this tale.
You need to pause at every single image to study the intricate, fine details Francesca Sanna includes in her collage work. When fear is a factor (and once hope) she enlarges the source; such as the dark grasping hands of war or the leering angry guard at the border. Every element in her illustrations has meaning. The heavier matte-finished paper is ideal for her work.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of the mother reading to her children, showing them pictures of the safe place. They are seated together. As the mother reads, the daughter is reaching down to play with the cat. Forest trees are placed beneath and above them. Large bears and a great stag become part of the background. Mountains, leaves, evergreen trees, an owl, a fawn, a fox, a rabbit, a squirrel and a wolf are all blended into this scene. I can't even imagine how much time it must have taken to create this picture.
The Journey written and illustrated by Francesca Sanna is a brave and necessary book. It is stellar in conveying the plight of people forced to leave their homes and their countries. It is fearful but also courageous. It should fill every reader with complete compassion. In her Author's note Sanna explains about how she came to write this story. It is highly recommended for purchase for your personal and professional bookshelves. It appears on The New York Times Notable Children's Books of 2016, the Kirkus Best Picture Books of 2016, the School Library Journal Best of 2016 Picture Books and one of the New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, 2016 Picks. It received a Parents' Choice Gold Award.
To discover more about Francesca Sanna and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. You can get a peek at some of the interior pages by stopping at the publisher's website. Francesca Sanna is interviewed about this book and her process at Let's Talk Picture Books, November 29, 2016.