MTYT: Story Boat

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH and Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ

Picking up from our discussion of Other Words for Home last week, we will be discussing another book that questions the concept of home. This week’s read, Story Boat by Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh, is sure to take us on a memorable journey.

bibliographic information for story boat located at bottom of post

JEAN: This is another thought-provoking read. In Story Boat, a family flees their home. A young girl picks up a stick and draws an “X” in the sand. Her younger brother asks what it is. She replies, “Here is just here.” As they journey, the children find comfort in everyday objects–the cups they sip from, the blanket they sleep under. The children take refuge in these and grow them into stories. The cup becomes a boat, the blanket a sail and all become “home.”

The story of refugees is not an uncommon one these days. As in Other Words for Home, I am struck by the soft voice the author chooses to tell what might be called a scary experience. While the topic is heavy, the children’s play retains a lighter tone. The author also taps in on the natural imagination of children as the siblings create stories to carry them through a strenuous journey. The ordinary everyday pieces of their lives become their definition of home. They bring a message of hope that helps transport the entire family to a better life.

The idea of home and family have such a strong relationship in this book. The family in this story grows beyond a single unit and extends to perhaps other relatives, to others who are making the same escape, thereby forming a new larger family. All are creating a space called home–even if it is a temporary space. I love that they bring music to their home, and that the music reflects their culture and their homeland.

HOLLY: I appreciated this book, Jean. I like how it starts with, “Here we are.” This statement is accompanied by a group of people traveling. It reminds me of the sentiment I previously noted about Fred Stays with Me, in which stability is so important to our concept of home. In this book, they retain this even while this group is moving, fleeing from a situation that will make them refugees somewhere else. But the use of the word “here” is a centering word and a word that feels stable. It can be comforting to feel as though, even in upheaval, we can still be centered. Of course, that sentence can be read as a “look, see what is happening” and draw attention to the situation as well. That is why I love how the book starts. I also love the use of the word, “here,” at the end. Yes, two anchors, two strong ones, in a book with minimal written language. But, it is not only the anchors, the book plays with the concept of the word, “here.” And it pulls together aspects of the first book we discussed, The Bridge Home, about how small objects can be a sense of home for the owner. In essence, we bring home with us, wherever “here” is. What else did you notice about this book in connection to the others we read that addressed the concept of “home,” Jean?

JEAN: You are so right about stability. I had not thought of the word “here” as stabilizing, but it certainly is and appears several times. Every “here” is a new beginning, a fresh start. I also love the cup that begins this definition of home ends the book in the form of a homemade constellation. Many find hope and stability looking to the stars. That we live in the same galaxy as the stars brings added meaning to “home.”

I am taken by the illustrations. The tones are muted throughout. After all, there is no part of this trek that is easy, but the oranges and whites add the brightness of hope amid the danger and toil of the blues and grays. While the facial expressions of the adults carry the stress of their journey and changes for brief moments as the book progresses, but the children have bright expressions that convey the feeling of hope. Home and re-homing are constants in all these stories. Creating a sense of home carries many burdens but it also has a strong backbone of hope. What great reads!

HOLLY: Yes, I enjoyed all of these books and can see how each would be enjoyed by younger readers! The concept of home is strong in all of them, and the idea that we carry home within us, and need to carry home within us, comes across strongly in each one. Story Boat is a nice book to end with because it reminds many of us that we come from generations of families who carried home with them when they migrated to the place they are now. Sometimes, it was a forced migration, other times voluntary, but in one way or another many of us have had to think about home in ways far removed from a physical location. Maybe we should talk more with young people about the reality that home does reside within us and with those objects that remind us of other people, other times, other places that we hold dear. Thanks for a terrific conversation again, Jean!

Title: Story Boat
Author: Kyo Maclear and Rashin Kheiriyeh
ISBN: 9780735263598
Publisher: Tundra Books
PubDate: February 4, 2020

Throughout July 2020, Holly and Jean give their take on books that have won awards or honors this year. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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