The Journey by Francesca Sanna

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Published by Flying Eye Books, 2016.

This is a book for our times. Every week we are bombarded with anti immigration headlines from areas of the press hell bent on creating a culture of fear and on scapegoating refugees for our problems. Our scaremongering politicians have joined the furore too. Francesca Sanna has written a book that strips away all of this hysteria and focuses on a single refugee family and their plight.

imageThe story is told from a child’s point of view and begins with a family holidaying happily at the seaside. It very quickly becomes much darker, both in terms of the content of the story and the colours used in the illustrations. There’s a visual hint of danger, a foreshadowing of the sadness ahead, on the very first page. Francesca Sanna has drawn the sea so that it looks menacing as it washes on to the shore, almost like an oil spill.

imageWar breaks out and the father is killed. The family faces darkness and fear. Francesca Sanna’s use of clawing, grasping hands to symbolise the destructiveness of the war is very powerful.

The mother is forced to make a very difficult decision. The family say goodbye to everyone they know and leave in the middle of the night for a country far away where they won’t be frightened anymore. We follow them on their journey as they travel further and further and leave more and more behind. At the border, angry guards turn them away and they end up having to pay a stranger to take them across. A perilous ferry journey follows and finally a long train journey across many borders. The ending is hopeful – the child narrator looks forward to one day finding a new home where the family can be safe and rebuild their lives.

The story is told with sensitivity. The illustrations are atmospheric and richly detailed, perfectly capturing the fear and hardship faced by the family. The book is an honest portrayal of the horrors of forced migration and the devastation of war. It is a testament too to a mother’s love for her children and her natural instinct to protect them.

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This book is vital. It gives a human face to forced migration and will help children understand the world we live in. Crucially, in a time of divisiveness, it encourages empathy.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 6+

We originally reviewed The Journey as Guardian family reviewers and we would like to thank Guardian Children’s Books for sending us a copy of the book.

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