Faced with Francesca Sanna’s tale of a mother and her two children fleeing war, I wanted to walk away. I couldn’t. I picked the book up off the shelf in our local independent children’s bookshop, and put it down, and picked it back up again. And then I took it home.
The Journey is dark and exquisite and deeply emotional. It wrestles with tragedy, loss, fear, war and chaos. The most devastating image in the book is of the children curled up in their mother’s arms as they hide from border guards in the woods. Told from a child’s point of view the text reads “In the darkness the noises in the forest scare me. But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep”. Only we see the mother awake, silently weeping. What makes this book so special is that we don’t know how this family’s story ends. We are left, though, with a feeling of great hope — and love. So much love.
Sanna explains in the endpapers that The Journey started with the story of two girls she met at a refugee centre in Italy but it incorporates the struggles of many different migrants from many different countries whose stories she sought out. While the news is flush with faceless, voiceless migrants, Sanna’s story and artwork give us an intimate look at what it might feel like as a child to live through the unimaginable. And so, I’m left in a quandary. This book feels important to share with children but I am not sure whether or not to read it with my two and a half year old. Should I shelter her from these harsh realities? Or is hoping little ears and eyes aren’t picking up on what she hears and sees on the radio and the front pages just a way of sheltering myself?