Where can this family lay their heads?

At first glance this moving children’s picture book seems to retell the journey of the flight into Egypt by Joseph and Mary after Jesus is born. Soon we see it’s a more contemporary tale of a family forced from their home to trudge across a desert in search of a new place to settle safely.

It’s a tale made familiar to most of us through newscasts. Others, sadly, live these stories first hand.

Too gritty for young children? If so, then the Christmas story (properly told) must be too.

The beleaguered family follows a bright star that turns out to be bombardments. Their donkey ‘bolts at the noise’, making their footslog even harder.

Tanks are massed on the horizon and their dark shapes are foreboding. Will the trio survive the trek to reach a safer place? Will their water last the distance?

‘Inshallah,’ says the man, God willing’.

The woman guards her baby as if he is an egg she might easily crack or a casket of gold a thief could eagerly snatch. The baby is precious … as is every child. But, for these parents, without a home, possessions or money, he’s everything they’ve got.

Flight was awarded Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year in 2016 and was also shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.

It’s not hard to see why.

The pairing of text and imagery is perfect. The words are spare but pregnant with meaning. The palette of blacks, greys and pale sepia create a stark and perilous landscape.

Images of this lonely family struggling against the elements were etched deeply in my mind on my first reading. I won’t forget them.

On the surface Flight may look like a sombre book recommendation at Christmas. I’d say relevant is a better description.

Amid all the tinsel and tack, I think it’s important to remind our kids and ourselves of just how lucky we are. To realise that there are others in the world with less food, water, safety and sense of belonging. To feel moved to offer these people our generosity, and to advocate on their behalf.

It’s also worth remembering that the baby at the heart of the Christmas story was in the same boat as the baby in Flight.

Both were refugees.

Both their families fled danger in their homelands.

Both deserved welcome, not rejection.

Both were worthy of a better life.

Nadia Wheatley
Armin Greder (illustrator)
Windy Hollow Books

This review was first published in the December 2016 issue of the South Sydney Herald.

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