The Journey by Francesca Sanna is a picturebook about a family’s journey of refuge after their country is unsafe after war. The family bonds are powerful in both the illustrations and the words. This book discusses refugee struggles and what happens to families that are refugees. It also provides conversation about how to help refugees in America today.
Jessica: This breath-taking, meaningful story is about a family that leaves their home. After their town is struck with war and it takes their father’s life, their mother hears of a faraway country where many travel to for safety and decides that they will also leave. What begins as a family adventure turns into escape, then survival.
The illustrations and storyline work to show the physical, mental and emotional toll on refugees similar to this family. The author shows a happy time, before the war, when all members are present and enjoy a family tradition. Although darkness is present in this scene, the family is unaware of it.
The war, as a dark creature, chases the family from their happy moment and throughout their entire journey. One part of this family’s story in The Journey is the continuous appearance of new challenges. As soon as the family reaches safety, another task presents itself. After the family gets over the wall, they must board a boat. Once the family finally reaches land, they must board a train. We don’t see the family reach their final destination, which shows that a refugee’s journey may never end.
Although the family finds temporary refuge along their journey, they never feel safe. When the mother shows her children pictures of their destination, the pictures surround them and make them feel safe. This feeling of safety is never shown again.
As the family reaches the wall, there is a powerful guard that tells them to leave. The guard’s size represents his power as he towers over the small family. My biggest emotional connection is when the family sleeps in the forest outside the wall because there is nowhere else to go. It is difficult to see a mother hold her two children tightly among the wild plants, but it is harder to see the mother weep as her children finally fall asleep peacefully.
I also find it interesting when they receive help over the wall. Their helper is such a negative, scary image. You expect the person who helps them to be pleasant. Perhaps this is a warning. Negative experiences can happen, so the reader still understands that to accept help is a risk.
The Journey‘s simple story that is easy for younger readers makes it an excellent addition to classrooms. Its metaphorical illustrations also encourage deeper, critical thinking in older audiences. This book offers the reader as much meaning as they take away from it. The story begins with a happy moment, then shows darkness that breeds struggle until we leave our characters in a hopeful situation. There are positive and negative stories about how today’s refugees end their journeys. Therefore, it works well that this book doesn’t show the end. The book closes with the symbolism of birds; it is sad, but also gives the boy hope for the future.
Janelle: The creator of The Journey shares the origin story of two sisters she met in a refugee center in Italy. Francesca Sanna collected other refugee stories, and with her own illustrative talents created what she says is a collage of the personal journeys of these people.
The end pages are images of what the book holds. The illustrative techniques of color, placement, symbolism and metaphoric images are powerful in telling this synthesis of stories. The text is simple, but behind the simplicity are stories told by the art. These are stories of loss, fear, challenges, physical journeys and hope.
Parts of The Journey story are not new to me as a reader, but Sanna’s art engages one in new ways. I relate to the happy family on the first page that play at the beach, although the dark ocean waters on the far right predict not-so-happy times ahead. The next page shows the claws of war destroy the town they love and eventually take the father. Happier times contrast war and the troubling journey. While there is hope, its strangeness is still prominent in the child narrator and the dangers prominent in the mother’s actions and appearance.
The family begins with belongings that they cherish, but “the further we go, the more we leave behind,” and by the end have only memories. Both in literature and the news there are ongoing journeys that seem endless and even impossible when they are refused the right to cross borders. While not all refugee journeys are such a combination of challenges, the average reader and citizen of the US does not often hear the whole story, even those who care enough to read and inquire.
Sanna’s unique artistic style reflects the emotions of this story in the concluding feeling of hope shared of the narrator, who observes the migrating birds. As with Flight, the search for a new home is not resolved. There is hope for the family, but I wonder what I can do for real families in our country that hope to find a safe home. I hope that young readers realize the difficulties and strength of those who do make it. I hope they are sensitive when discussing the refugee situation within the global community.
Title: The Journey
Author: Francesca Sanna
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Date Published: September 13 2016
This is the fourth installment of November 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.