Always interested in having a look at new books dealing with the topic of border crossings and migration, I am grateful to EK Books for forwarding me a review copy of this new picture book by Robert Vescio and Andrea Edmonds: The Voyage.
The story tells of a family fleeing their worn-torn country and setting off on a journey to safety. Each page displays just one word, allowing the reader to expand and discuss the images they are being presented with. The illustrations are beautiful.
Both author and illustrator are based in Australia yet for me here in the UK, the story has strong similarities to the migrant situation around the Mediterranean albeit with a more idealistic ending. I was intrigued to find out about their own experiences and inspiration for writing such a book. I was offered the chance to contact them both to find out more.
CS: First up, Robert Vescio. Where did you get your inspiration from?
RV: I wanted to write a story about the refugee crisis that was unique and different to other refugee stories. A story to allow children to explore their surroundings and give the reader the ability to expand on the words and tell a story through what they see. What is it like to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange?
CS: Did the words come first or the illustrations?
RV: The words definitely came first, although I did envision how the illustrations would like look as I was writing the story.
CS: While you were writing, did you have in your mind where this family might be fleeing from and to?
RV: When writing The Voyage, I didn’t have a specific country in mind that the family was fleeing from. The illustrator, Andrea Edmonds, researched refugees from different parts of the world. This lead her to the millions of refugees in the Middle East. So she based her ideas and illustrations around a Middle Eastern family and created their own authentic back story.
CS: I’ve seen this book advertised as being suitable for 4-8 year olds. Some people might argue that younger children don’t need to read books like this – aged 5, why do they need to know? What would you say to this?
RV: I hope my story will help facilitate conversation and promote healthy communication to help foster empathy, understanding and inspire children to ensure a welcoming environment in their own communities. Stories like The Voyage, will help children come to understand the reality for many refugees living in their country. Without stories, children will struggle to understand. Today, we find ourselves living alongside refugees who have suffered and experienced horrific trauma. They all have different experiences and come from different cultures. It’s important that we understand and build good communities and the only way we can do this is through stories – stories that help us explore and imagine being that someone else.
Andrea Edmonds (AE), where did you get your inspiration from?
AE: After reading the manuscript for the first time, I began to research refugees from different parts of the world, and was saddened to read of the millions of refugees in the Middle East, following the Syrian Civil War. Ideas began to flow around creating a Middle Eastern family, as the central characters in The Voyage with their own authentic back story. The architecture, tapestry, fabrics, music and food, of the Middle East was what I drew inspiration from to set the scene. My first sketches produced the father being a traditional oud musician, and the rest of the family were developed afterwards.
CS: Did you have in your mind where this family might be fleeing from and to?
AE: Although the family are portrayed as Middle Eastern, the characters themselves are fictional, though inspired by the current situation. The destination they arrive in to find safety and start a new life is not any particular European or Western country, but more importantly portrays the new land as welcoming and understanding of what this family have just endured. The reader has the freedom to relate the story to their own experience.
CS: The real stories we hear about boat crossings and arriving in Europe are clearly far harsher than they are displayed in the book. Was this a conscious decision to make this a gentler experience for the reader?
AE: The reality of what refugees experience before, during and after their journey is certainly much more harsh and tragic than what is illustrated. Taking into consideration our younger readers from 3+, was the main reason for portraying a gentler experience, to encourage empathy, promote positive discussion and bring awareness to younger generations.
CS: I love the duck in the pictures. Is there any special relevance attached to why they are taking a duck with them? I’ve read other books where families take their pet cat with them but I’ve never come across a duck!
AE: During my research, I had read several accounts of refugees unable to abandon their pets (mainly cats and dogs) as they embarked on their journey to find safety. It was amazing to hear that their pets had survived the journey. This inspired the idea to include a family pet in The Voyage.
As the background story of the family includes the Mother having a garden (which the seeds she initially brings with her are from), it just seemed fitting to envision a duck as the family pet running around in the yard, which the children loved to play in also.
My aim was to create a family that readers could identify with, and better understand the heartache of their experience.
CS: Andrea and Robert, many thanks for answering my questions.
For more books dealing with this topic, please click here to see the books I reviewed during Refugee Week 2019.
You can also join me over on the World Kid Lit Blog for more reviews, interviews and articles about translated and world books for children.Follow @ClaireStorey16