It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.
We have just launched our reading theme yesterday for July-August: Nomads, Homes, and Habitats: Restlessness and Refuge in Literature. I thought it would be good to begin the theme with these two immensely powerful picturebooks that tackle heavy-going topics such as displacement, the disappeared, the dislocated – because they do exist. Through these books they are given space to re-emerge, if only in our consciousness.
Migrant: The Journey Of A Mexican Worker
Written by: Jose Manuel Mateo Illustrations by: Javier Martinez Pedro
Published by: Harry N. Abrams, 2014. ISBN: 1419709577 (ISBN13: 9781419709579). Book Award: 2015 Notable Books for a Global Society Award Winner. Personal copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I wanted to get my hands on this book for a long time, and given its accordion-fold packaging I suspect there are only limited copies available; add the fact that it has double-sided printing to accommodate its bilingual presentation. While I am tempted to say that the images stole the show in this book, that would be doing the text of Jose Manuel Mateo a disservice – as he manages to pack a strong emotional punch with such distilled narrative.
The story begins with a fairly vivid description of this young boy’s village flanked by the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. The images reminded me a little bit of the Filipino cartoonist Larry Alcala who tended to populate his drawings in a similarly dense fashion – see sample cartoon below:
What is amazing here is how the artist moves the story along in a vertical manner, following the text, and the codex-style of the book – unlike the traditional horizontal flipping of the pages that follow a linear visual narrative.
The image below is also particularly striking to me – as it shows how perilous their journey was in their attempts to get away from their village:
We rode in a truck to the train tracks and waited there. When the train appeared, it scared us; it huffed and puffed like an animal. The train didn’t stop, so we had to run alongside and quickly jump on. For once, running was not fun. I almost didn’t make it, but my sister reached down to pull me up.
The chaotic nature of the migration is also perfectly captured in the image above with the presence of the police, the wall that divides one place from another, and the desperate men who are willing to risk everything to go to the other side. Yet the story is still very much personalized with the young boy’s voice who shares how his father had to leave their village because there is no work to be had, and how they needed to cross the border to find him ever since he stopped sending them money and writing them letters. The fear of the police is exacerbated given the fact that once you are captured, you become one of the disappeared – this is also something that Filipinos are aware of, with the desaparacidos who are victims of extrajudicial killings, particularly during the time of the Martial Law. As can be seen in Mateo’s words:
I was afraid that they would catch us, because if they capture you, then you disappear. “You disappear” – that’s what a woman told my mom.
I also like how the ending is open-ended:
While the young man, his mother, and his sister did reach the United States (as can be seen in the preponderance of Taco Bell and hotels and cars in the image above), it is unclear what the future has in store for them – and whether they would even be reunited with his father. The Author’s and Artist’s Note was also very compelling as Mateo and Pedro shared why this work is so important to them:
Using the codex form, we tell the story of those who do arrive, so as not to forget that there are women, men, and untold numbers of girls and boys who disappear or die along the way. We seek not only to raise awareness but, above all, to safeguard their memory. We wish to tell and to question this collective story that makes children defenseless and almost nonexistent to their own country and to the new one where they hope to find work. When they migrate, the children cannot themselves legally prove their name, nor can they request documents to do so; many times they cannot even manage to find out what their real age is. For this reason we have created this book: to demand these children’s right to exist.
Written by: Nadia Wheatley Illustrations by: Armin Greder
Published by: Windy Hollow Books, 2015 ISBN13: 9781922081483. Personal copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I first heard about this book while I was in Perth, and I knew I had to have it. This book is still unavailable here in Singapore and I practically begged my Aussie librarian friend to purchase it for me when he went back to Sydney for a vacation. Similar to a great deal of Australian picturebooks that truly push the boundaries of children’s literature by introducing such heavy-going themes, this one has a fleeing family as the central characters in the narrative.
The landscape and the characters’ clothing suggest that this may be set in the Middle East. Given the influx of Syrian refugees all over the world (but most prevalent in Europe), this book is not only timely and relevant, it opens the reader’s eyes and hearts to what it truly is like to take flight from one’s home, from everything that is familiar, and to put one’s self in the mercy of the elements just to get away:
The stark flaming red above highlights the contrast in the predominantly-monochromatic landscape that suggests the need for stealth, the requirement of disappearing that is fundamental to one’s very survival.
As the family glimpses a possible place of refuge further away, there is a palpable sense of relief – as the family seems to be in a never-ending journey to nowhere fueled only by “Inshallah.” However, the ending raises even more questions rather than answers, as this period of transition seems to gradually evolve into an indefinite state of being neither here nor there, an eternal sense of dislocation and displacement:
Just like most of Nadia Wheatley and Armin Greder’s picturebooks, this one cut to the core. I would recommend that you pair this with Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley:
For teachers who wish to use Flight in the classroom, here is a downloadable three-paged PDF resource that contains quite an extensive list of possible discussion questions.