Monday, November 13, 2017

"The Mediterranean" by Armin Greder (Allen and Unwin)

This amazing book follows on from one of the most affecting and heartwrenching children's books ever written. After Armin Greder's "The Island" comes "The Mediterranean"...
There are some children's books that tackle very tough subjects in ways that are so effective, you know there will be questions. There may also be tears, in fact in the case of "The Mediterranean" Charlotte and I cuddled up and went through the book a good few times.

Then, of course, the questions began - and the need to try and explain, make sense of and discuss the subject at hand - the awful tragedies unfolding throughout the world when people are forced from their homes by warfare, famine, flooding or other disasters - with no choice but to try and find somewhere else to settle.

The migrant crisis has been discussed at length in Charlotte's school, and though we've seen many books that go into far more detail than Armin Greder's "The Mediterranean", we've seldom seen a book that can put across the aching human tragedy at the heart of the crisis more effectively than this.

What's more, the book contains just one short page of text, setting the scene for the way the book's story loops back on itself, and the horrible atrocities that take place in circumstances that now barely even make the evening news headlines.

The story starts with that short paragraph, describing a drowning body. From there, we're swept along with Armin's emotive and effective visual storytelling. Text is cut entirely to make way for sweeping charcoal and colour drawings that almost feel like they're going to leap off the page and come to life. There's spirit and movement in there, but also horror and tragedy as we see the seeds of unrest sown, a sinister figure dealing arms, armies on the rise walking through villages and razing them to the ground - and the inevitable tragic images of migrants with few possessions giving their very last just to try and find a safe harbour.

When the questions came, they came as a flood. Why was this happening? Why are there horrible people in the world who would take money from these poor people? Why was there so much hatred - these are human beings! Why...

Sometimes as a parent you're faced with situations where your answers aren't quite enough, or perhaps (like me) you lack an adequate way to answer without feeling desperate sadness, or intolerable anger at the plight of refugees, and the seemingly blasé way the media treats the crisis.

There are people that care though, and it's blatantly obvious that Armin has taken it upon himself to be a modern-day curator of stories that will prompt those questions from children, but hopefully will also ensure that they grow up as better more tolerant people.

Sadly, I feel this book won't find its way into the hands of the audience that it needs to, but it really needs to be in pretty much every school library or book collection - and if you come away from it with a mere shrug of your shoulders, or a 'this doesn't affect me' attitude, then we really do feel genuinely sorry for you.

"The Mediterranean" by Armin Greder is out now, published by Allen and Unwin (kindly supplied for review).