sobering and ponderous and breathtaking

by Nadia Wheatley, illustrator Armin Grede - Windy Hollow Books 2015
ages 8 and up / coffee table, s.o.s.e.

This is a truly remarkable book—the sort that makes you gasp and know that it needs to be in your house, on your table and hopefully in the hearts of your family. Awarded the 2016 CBCA Picture Book of the Year, Flight is a refugee story—and perhaps a Christmas fable. 

There’s a mother and a baby, a father and a donkey. They’re fleeing the authorities through a dark and dismal desert. They’re hoping for God’s blessings and they’re following a star. 

But then …. there are rocket flares, and tanks. And finally a refugee camp.

It's a story of urgency and fear but also one of hope and courage, it leaves the reader feeling admiration and solidarity for the young family. There’s an appropriate darkness to the story—the pictures are moody and invoke a sense of drama and concern. The words feel personal, like we’re seeing into the hearts of the family.

One of the really great things about picture books is that when they address important issues, like this one, they can do it in a way that isn’t overbearing or condescending. Instead, the combination of words and art speaks to heart as well as mind and lets readers draw their own conclusions. Flight is just that sort of picture book: a human story, simply told, without preaching.

As ever, picture books are not the province of children alone – that’s especially so here. Flight is most likely to be treasured by older children, teens and adults. A few things I particularly love:

The baby who is a symbol of hope

The baby hears the sound of his mother’s voice. … He is not afraid.”  “…the little boy grows. ‘One day,’ he promises his mother, ‘we will reach our new home.’”

The father who places all his hope in God and carries on with courage

The man measures the journey by the amount of water that is left. One sip for himself. Two for his wife. He reckons there is enough to keep them going until noon. Inshallah.”

The mother who sings to her child when that is all she has to offer

The night brings the wind. The wind brings the sand. ‘Lulla, lulla … lulla bye bye …’”

The poignancy of seeing mother and child alone at the very last.

While this might not be a joyful book, it resonates and inspires with human courage and with a willingness to risk all to find hope. Perhaps there’s no more important message at Christmastime—or anytime.

You can buy Flight from Booktopia