'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 22 March 2012

Review: Ships in the Field

It's war time. A little girl and her stuffed toy dog Brownie are waiting for Papa to come home. Papa works in a car factory all day long. He used to be a farmer back in the old country. But now he's not.

The little girl's mother used to be a teacher. But now she's not. Now she makes dresses all day. Things are different for this family now, and the sadness and loss is palpable.

Like that remarkable award-winning film Life is Beautiful, starring Roberto Benigni, Papa is determined to make this uncertain, unfamiliar life as happy as possible for his daughter.

He smiles, he laughs, he promises his daughter a real life puppy soon, he makes paper hats to wear at the dinner table - and Ma makes sure there's warming chicken soup on the table, just like they had in the old country - before their home was broken.

Life goes on. Sometimes Ma cries. Night time is scary - but Sundays are the best days because it's picnic day. The family heads to a beautiful field dotted with sheep, but all Papa can see is a mass of ships, strewn for miles. When he speaks of the 'ships', his daughter laughs and says 'Papa, you mean sheep'. Papa smiles 'Yes, the ships,' he says.

Pignataro's striking watercolour images of ships, trains and misplaced immigrants are heartrending and beautiful. This is a poignant book about not only the horrors of war and displacement and loss experienced by countless refugees, it is also about hope.

The story is particularly important to the author and illustrator - Susanne’s parents were Hungarian refugees and Anna’s parents were Italian refugees, both post-war.

Subtle, sweet, devastating and uplifting, all at the same time, Ships in the Field would suit all children, but particularly older kids, for its subtleties.

Title: Ships in the Field
Author: Susanne Gervay
Illustrator: Anna Pignataro
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing, $26.95 RRP
Publication Date: 1 February 2012
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781921665233
For ages: 5 - 10
Type: Picture Book