Migrants and carousels

I read LOTS of picture books! My youngest is not quite three and she loves picture books. She’ll spend ages flipping through pages and pointing things out to me. But most of all, she loves it when we sit down together, and I read them to her. So we do it every day.

You know, there are lots of really ordinary picture books out there. Some aren’t very well written. Some aren’t very well illustrated. Sometimes both text and visuals are just fine… but the overall book is missing a spark. So, when a really good picture book crosses my path, I stand up and take notice. And I’ve encountered two such books this week.

The first of these is a brand new book, scheduled for publication in February. Ships in the Field is written by Susanne Gervay and illustrated by Anna Pignataro.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the title. Ships in the field? What could that possibly mean? It’s actually a mis-pronunciation of “sheep in the field”, very common among European migrants in Australia. And once I realised this, it immediately brought up a host of memories. You see, my parents are migrants. They did, and still do, pronounce certain English words in an odd way, often adding an extraneous ‘s’ to pluralise a word that is already plural. And so we have “ships” instead of “sheep”.

Ships in the Field is a story about migrants escaping war; a story about making a new life in a new country; and the story of a little girl who wants a puppy. It is both simple and complex at the same time. A simple story about a girl, for a small child to follow and enjoy. And behind that, the story of her parents. In this book there are no country names, there are no dates, there is no specific setting, giving the story a universality and timeless quality.

“Papa grew up in a village in the old country, before it was broken. Ma grew up in a city in the old country, before it was broken.”

The illustrations are beautiful! They are filled with the same humour, warmth and subtlety as the text. There is so much to discover on every page.

Both Gervay and Pignataro are children of migrants. Perhaps that is why they’ve produced such a heartfelt and ‘real’ story.

The second book is from a couple of years ago, although I’ve only just read it. Flame Stands Waiting is written by Corinne Fenton and illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione. Set in what looks like Melbourne’s Luna Park, this is the story of Flame, one of the horses on the carousel.

Flame is the horse that doesn’t move up and down. Flame is the horse that stands completely still. Flame is the horse that the kids are least interested in. Flame is the horse that always stands waiting…

Until one day, a girl named Clara chooses to ride on Flame and teaches Flame that although he can’t move up and down, in his heart, he can do anything and go anywhere.

“And now, whenever the carousel turns and the other horses dance, Flame dances too… in his heart.”

This is such a lovely book — a heart-warming story with gorgeous illustrations. Although it was published in 2010 it is still widely available and highly recommended.

If only there were more picture books as good as these two.

Catch ya later,  George

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