The Journey

"I live with my family in a city close to the sea. Every summer we used to spend many weekends at the beach. But we never go there anymore, because last year our lives changed forever...." A child tells the story in The Journey, Italian author-illustrator Francesca Sanna's gorgeously stylized, spare and powerful picture-book debut about a family forced to leave their country in wartime. Their home isn't named, nor the war, but the heartbreaking, frightening narrative is one shared by refugee families around the world.

In the opening spread, that "city close to the sea" is depicted as an elaborate sandcastle empire the peaceful family is building. Gentle black waves lap at the shore, but soon transform into menacing black hands that smash the sandcastle city to smithereens, sending the family on the run. All is war and chaos. The father disappears. A burka-clad woman describes an escape route to a "country far away with high mountains," so the mother decides to go, promising her little girl and boy "a great adventure." Via car, fruit truck and bicycle-pulled cart, they finally arrive at the border... and an enormous wall. An angry, red-bearded giant shouts "Go back!" They persevere.

The narrator says her mother is never scared, but she is shown as a protective, encircling pod, beautiful, eyes wide open, tears flowing, while her children sleep in her arms. Stories are important in The Journey--the mother's reassuring ones and those the children tell each other about a possible land of "kind fairies that dance." No promise of happy endings, just hope. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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