About the book: Tonight is the night. The family has to flee. They’ve been tipped off that the authorities are after their blood. Set in biblical times, a small family sets off across a desert in search of refuge from persecution in their own country, and an ancient story becomes a fable for our times. Their journey is beset by heat and thirst, threatening tanks and the loss of their donkey, but eventually they reach a refugee camp where they can wait in safety for asylum in another country.
About the author and illustrator: Nadia Wheatley has written numerous award-winning picture books, novels and works of history for children and adults. These include My Place and The House that was Eureka. Armin Greder has won international awards for his illustrated picture books including The Great Bear, An Ordinary Day, I am Thomas, The Island and The City.
This picture book has many varied levels of interpretation. The title and cover immediately suggested to us the escape of the Holy Family in the Nativity Story in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. We discussed that an interesting way of introducing this story would be to firstly read the Gospel story and then read Flight.
The story begins in the dark of night as the family hide behind broadly sketched anonymous buildings. We are told, “the air is bitterly cold, and the wind shrieks across the sands”. We talked about the early illustrations; the sparse double-page spreads with the broad brush strokes of pencil and charcoal reflect a desert setting, indicative of a Middle Eastern location. Travelling by donkey, the father holding a staff, guided by a bright star, at this stage the story appears to be biblical. It is on the next page that the reader is shaken and aware with both words, “the night’s bombardment has started”, and illustrations that a shift in the story’s time frame has occurred. This is intensified on the following pages when the family hides in a ditch as, ‘’the rumbling is coming closer, closer …’’ and the donkey escapes. Tension and danger are highlighted on the following page which shows a stylised charcoal sketch of tanks rolling across the landscape.
As daylight breaks the family makes their way on foot across the harsh desert landscape. It is on these pages that the reader’s pre-conceived ideas are again challenged when the couple’s religion is revealed through the father’s observation of a prayer ritual and the words, “Inshallah,’ he replies. ‘God be willing.’’ The following pages reveal their journey through night and day until the double spread that shows a blur of something in the distance. As the family are facing away from the reader, facing toward the distance, the reader sees the same image as that seen by the family.
Although the family is safe the pages of the refugee camp shows a repetition of tents and a repetition of a way of life, “Day follow night. Night follows day. As the earth turns and turns around the sun, the little boy grows.” The book ends on a note of hope with the mother and child gazing intently at the reader as they wait for a new home.
We found this to be a very powerful picture book although it was felt that it was certainly a book best used for the older students who can make those connections between past and present. It was also discussed that this is a book that needs some discretion in certain school populations. For some schools, where there is a very high refugee population, there could be some triggers in this book. It was also commented that it would be a great resource for the children in those schools who are not from this background as a means of fostering understanding, compassion and empathy. We compared the tone and atmosphere of this book to others we had read in book club in past years; notably, My Two Blankets, Teacup and The Red Pencil. This would also be an excellent resource for high schools.