A Harrowing Journey

On my hold shelf at the library this week was a picture book called THE JOURNEY by Francesca Sanna. The story is one of a family attempting to escape a war and travel in secret to a new place in order to make a better life. The author created this book inspired by many different accounts of the people who have migrated from one country to another—and she successfully shows what the experience is like on a personal level.

The illustrations use sophisticated color palettes and shapes, patterns, flat geometry, and a vintage/modern look – indicative traits of European illustration. While the pictures are more surreal, the text is straightforward–the voice of a child;

“The war began. Every day bad things started happening around us and soon there was nothing but chaos.”

The subject matter is scary and sad—there’s war, death, a chase, and an open ending–and as I read the book, I wondered how children have been reacting to it. I could imagine it potentially being too upsetting for a small and sensitive child, but on the other hand, the artwork’s colors and shapes act as a soothing juxtaposition for the harsh reality of the story.

Those who are especially passionate about the present migration issues should brave the tricky subject in order to introduce their child to this journey. Francesca Sanna depicts the experience with thoughtfulness and beauty, and imparts sympathy for and empathy with those travelling from one place to another in search of a better life–an experience that has been shared by the ancestors of nearly every citizen in this country.

Eliza Wheeler

Eliza Wheeler is the author-illustrator of MISS MAPLE’S SEEDS (Penguin), which debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She also illustrated Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel DOLL BONES (Simon & Schuster), Pat Zietlow Miller’s picture book WHEREVER YOU GO (Little Brown), Mara Rockliff’s picture book THE GRUDGE KEEPER (Peachtree), and Tricia Springstubb's new middle grade series CODY (Candlewick). Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza is a northern Wisconsin native currently living with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at www.wheelerstudio.com


  1. So timely, Eliza. I had no idea anything like this was out there to introduce this sensitive subject to kids. Our church is sponsoring family of refugees. I’ll have to get this for our library. Thanks!

    • Hi Jill, I can think of two other books with a similar theme that might interest you. Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Tanya and Richard Simon (Jewish immigrant boy in the 1930s) and Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago (crossing the Mexican/US boarder).

  2. So happy to have tweeted this blog out today. I love that this book is out there.

  3. I have this book in my office right now, Eliza. I, too, thought it was beautifully done, and offers a way to discuss a really important subject. Thanks for such a timely post.

  4. An Important book right now. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Thank you for your insightful review, Eliza. I will have to check this one out, it looks interesting and beautiful!

  6. Thanks for the introduction. I’ll check it out; can’t wait.

  7. Ordering it now! This seems incredibly important.
    The illustrations look incredible.
    thanks, Eliza.

  8. Thank you for sharing. I’ll have to take a look at his one!

  9. This is a book I’d love to share and discuss with a class. Thank you!

  10. You’ve got me curious. Hold placed.

  11. I read & reviewed The Journey last fall after finally finding it in a bookshop. I agree that the subject matter is difficult for young children, but because it’s a picture book & most likely will be read to them by relatives, teachers, librarians or even religious leaders, I think the discussions that will take place can help young children empathize without becoming traumatized.

  12. Very timely. I agree with Patricia that discussing it helps with healing and closure.

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