Wednesday 14 December 2011

Ships in the Field

Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro
(Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
ISBN 978-1921665233
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Joining the mastery of award-winning author, Susanne Gervay and award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro – Ships in the Field is a picture book filled with significance, beauty and rich subtext.

Narrated through the simple, but intuitive eyes of a little girl, this picture book tells the story of life for a refugee family who have fled from their war torn country and started a new life in a foreign land. The little girl shares heart warming family moments with the reader. Images of her father splashing her with water from the laundry tub, making hats for the whole family from paper napkins, promising her a puppy that she so longs for, or sitting on top of trees that give a view of the whole world; all of these provide a safe and comfortable foundation for her to share other images of her family’s life that are far deeper and more complex. We see her mother crying in the hallway as she sleeps, we hear of how the night scares her, we hear of the loss of their previous life, and the complexity of mistaking ‘ship’ for ‘sheep’. These images are delicately interwoven in a way that brings hope and understanding.

The intricate images from Anna Pignataro are wonderfully complimentary and equally telling. She captures the warmth, solidary and strength of the family through her soft, watercolour images; however, the double page image spreads also provide the subtext for what is left partially unsaid in the narrative – the gloom, loss, fear and devastation of war. Colour is a significant part of the illustrations and the sense of hope overcoming loss and devastation is depicted through the changing colours, as the darker and more neutral tones are slowly replaced with brighter and more vibrant colours towards the books close.

Through its imagery, clever word play and warmth, Ships in the Field has created a thoughtful and touching insight into the world of a child whose life has been shredded by war. While it is a great insight, it is not overly confronting and easily accessible for younger readers. It is a significant picture book that will assist children (aged 7+) to develop empathy and understanding. 

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