My kids hate to see me cry, but there have been times when I’m following the Syrian refugee crisis that I can’t help it. They’ve caught me looking at the haunting photo of Omran Daqneesh in the ambulance, seeing the tragic body of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach, and watching desperate mothers and fathers trying to get their families to safety while “reporters” trip them as they run from armed guards.
But, you know, I think it’s a good thing that they see me cry at images like this.
As strongly as I feel about it, I’ve still struggled to explain the Syrian refugee experience to my kids. We lead a pretty privileged life, and the concept of leaving behind everything you know and love because your safety is at stake is something they cannot grasp easily. But a new, exquisitely illustrated book by Francesca Sanna, The Journey, is an excellent way to start this discussion with them.
It goes to the dark places, but it goes there with hope.
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There’s a fairytale-like quality to the story of The Journey, which is told from the perspective of a child who had a very happy life in her coastal town in Syria. But then war comes, it takes her father, and she must leave with her mother for a safer home. In this story, the border guards are giants and the forest dwellers protect them — illustrative elements that detail the childlike perspective of what it must feel like to have to travel far away from home to escape danger.
The real magic of the story is in these illustrations, which reveal so much more than even the powerful text. At one point the child narrator says her mother is never scared. The picture shows her children asleep in her arms, vulnerable in the forest…and, she’s weeping. Beware moms: the strength, courage, and compassion of the mother in this story may wreck you.
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This is the most powerful children’s book I’ve read this year. Maybe even in my entire career. And I think it’s a must-read for raising compassionate kids. If my children — who will grow up to be middle-class Americans with privilege and influence — read books like this that help them empathize with those who are suffering, I am certain they’ll become the compassionate adults I wish for them to be.
And that is the kind of hope we could all use more of right now.
You can buy The Journey by Francesca Sanna at our affiliate Amazon, or ask for it at your local bookstore or library. We recommend reading it with your kids and talking through it with them. And teachers, Amnesty International has created free resources to help you use this book in your classrooms too.