About the Holiday
On World Refugee Day, first celebrated in 2001, we commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. The annual commemoration is marked by a variety of events in more than 100 countries, involving government officials, humanitarian aid workers, celebrities, civilians and the forcibly displaced themselves.
By Francesca Sanna
A child begins the story with a place—the family’s home in a city by the sea. The family used to visit the beach often, but not anymore, “because last year our lives changed forever,” the child reveals. “The war began,” the narrator says, turning their once-peaceful life into “chaos.” Not only was their city torn apart, the family was also, as “one day the war took [their] father.”
The child’s mother is afraid of the darkness that has descended on them. One of her friends told her that many people are leaving, escaping to another country with high mountains. The two children ask their mother where and what this place is. She answers that “‘it is a safe place’” an then shows them pictures that contain unfamiliar trees and animals. She sighs and tells her son and daughter, “‘We will go there and not be frightened anymore.’”
Even though the children don’t want to leave, they pack up all their belongings and say goodbye to their friends. They leave at night so they won’t be caught. They travel for many days, taking various modes of transportation. With each change the family must leave more and more of their things behind.
When they reach the border, they are met by an enormous wall that they must climb over. But before they can, a guard stops them and tells them they cannot cross, that they must go back. The family has nowhere else to go, however, and they are very tired. They find a spot in the woods to sleep, but the strange noises keep the children awake. Their mother tells them not to be afraid, and in her arms they finally fall asleep as she cries silent tears.
Suddenly, they hear shouting and see that the guards are looking for them. They run and run until they meet a man who takes them over the border. They come to the shores of a huge body of water that stretches far into the distance. The family must cross this water to be safe. They board a ferry loaded with other families and sail for days. On the way, they tell stories of the creatures who lurk in the waters below, “ready to gobble [them] up if the boat capsizes.” Other times they tell stories about magic fairies who live in the land they are going to—ones who have “magic spells to end the war.”
In the dawn light, the children and their mother finally see land. They are close to the place where they will be safe, the mother says, but it requires many more days of train travel across many more borders. On the journey the child watches birds migrating just as they are and hopes that one day, like the birds, they will find a new home where they “can be safe and begin our story again.”
Francesca Sanna’s moving compilation of true immigrant stories into a powerful narrative that speaks for so many provides a compelling and sensitive way to discuss the world’s refugee crisis with children. Sanna’s straightforward storytelling allows children to understand the cause and effect relationship of the war on those it displaces. Her focus on the length and difficulty of the family’s journey gives young children—for whom even short times and distances can seem long—a starting point for deeper comprehension. Sanna tempers frightening aspects of the story with her calm delivery and peppering of courage on the part of the mother and children along the way.
Sanna’s stunning and emotionally resonant artwork deftly presents the experiences of loss and love the story contains. Her use of the amorphous, seeping black images demonstrate the movement of the war and the ravages it imposes. Collage-like aspects to the illustrations gives readers much to talk about at varying age-appropriate levels. As the family’s journey begins, their suitcases and trunks filled with belongings are piled high, but as it continues, their luggage dwindles until only the most precious valuables remain—the two children and their mother. Sanna’s color pallet of oranges, reds, yellows, and greens are eye-catching and convey the urgency of the family’s plight. The final image of the mother, son, and daughter carried on the wind by a majestic bird offers the opportunity to talk about hope with young readers.
Ages 3 – 8
Flying Eye Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1909263994
Learn more about Francesca Sanna and her work on her website!
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