Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Journey

by Francesca Sanna
Flying Eye     2016
48 pages     Picture Book

Without a doubt, The Journey by Francesca Sanna is the most compelling book that I have read thus far this year—and it is a picture book. When the war in an unnamed country (take your pick) begins, the brave little girl in the story has her life change forever when her father is killed and her family must escape. The trip is scary and extremely dangerous, but "mother is with us and she is never scared." They travel by car, by truck, by bicycle, by foot, by ferry, and finally by train. The girl believes that she is like a migrating bird, and maybe like those birds, her family will find a new home where they will be safe.

The author, who is an Italian illustrator and picture book author, got her inspiration for The Journey when she met some children at an Italian refugee camp. Her illustrations show the scary darkness of the journey from a child's perspective. I was so touched by the girl's trust in her mother and the decisions that the family made to escape from the war. The children (and probably the mother) had no understanding of where they would find a home. Neither the war nor the places that the family is traveling through are named, but the darkness of the illustrations helps the reader know that the danger doesn't go away once they leave the war zone. If I had been the mother, I would have been scared out of my mind, but my purpose would have been singular—to get my children to a better place where they could thrive.

The book is advertised for preschool readers, but I would caution that the pictures are scary. Also, I am not sure that preschoolers would understand the context of the experience—unless you were one of those children taking this journey. Where I see this book being used successfully is in elementary schools for creative writing, or in schools where there are refugees and immigrants. As a matter of fact, one of my friends is using The Journey for a writing seminar for high school students that she is conducting. It is perfect in that setting. I can also see it in settings where refugee and immigrant services are offered and children are served, like the Justice for Our Neighbor clinic at my church. 

The Journey is receiving a lot of press; starred reviews in all the major reviewing outlets. Run, don't walk, to pick one up for your elementary aged (and higher) children. The most timely picture book of the year.

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