CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 7. . . .October 21, 2016
The evening news is filled with disturbing accounts of the Syrian refugee crisis and offers contrasting viewpoints about Canada’s role as a haven for evacuees. Some communities have already welcomed refugees and experienced a first-hand opportunity to learn about the issues that precipitated such global migrations. For those searching for ways to encourage greater empathy and understanding of immigrants amongst children, story has always offered a powerful medium for building a foundational awareness and appreciation of individual perspectives.
Joseph’s Big Ride is a picture book that relates the experiences of a young boy emigrating from South Sudan and how he connects to his new community. During his stay in a refugee camp, Joseph’s biggest dream was to one day have the opportunity to ride a bicycle. In his new home, with the help of a new friend, this dream is finally realized.
Joseph meets a neighbour girl with a big head of curly hair whom he names Whoosh after the way she always whizzes past him, hair flying, on her shiny red bicycle. Joseph tries to find a way to ask Whoosh for the chance to ride on her bicycle, but his attempts are misunderstood. However, an opportunity is presented when Whoosh shares with him that her bicycle has been damaged in an accident. Joseph is able to repair the bicycle using the skills learned from Daau in the refugee camp, and he makes a new friend in the process. Whoosh teaches Joseph to ride and his dream of riding a bicycle is finally realized.
It is clear that author and writing teacher Terry Farish has a gift for sharing the stories of people from many different cultures through her award-winning books for adults, young adults and children. She writes through the lens of her own first-hand experiences as a volunteer with the Red Cross in Vietnam and her work with refugee and new immigrant literacy programs. Other titles she has written include: Either the Beginning or the End of the World (2015), The Good Braider (2012, this free verse novel was recently made into a music video), The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup (2003), If the Tiger (1995), and Luis Paints the World (2016).
In Joseph’s Big Ride, Farish takes the issues of forced immigration and crafts a story that focuses on the experiences of one small refugee boy, making this topic accessible for primary students.
The illustrations by Canadian artist Ken Daley employ simple abstract images to capture the joyful emotion and relevant story events. His artistic style speaks to his West Indies heritage as the pages explode with bright colours and movement to capture the actions of Joseph and Whoosh. Using acrylic and marker on poster board, Daley uses a variety of angles to reflect the feel of the settings whether it be the refugee camp or a noisy night in the city. Smaller and less significant details are ignored in the composition, and blue outlining and shading are employed to create a contemporary and impressive look.
The text of Joseph’s Big Ride also skirts the details and newsworthy issues to focus on the viewpoint and feelings of a child. Adult readers may wish for an end page or preface to provide a background to Joseph’s story as young readers are bound to question the situation that led to Joseph’s family being in a refugee camp and their emigration to North America. Beyond the main themes of friendship and determination, the book addresses an appreciation for what one has, whether it is a loving family, a home, regular meals, free education, or other less tangible needs such as safety and acceptance. It is interesting that the author’s choosing to focus on Joseph’s desire to ride a bicycle contrasted subtly with Whoosh’s lackadaisical attitude towards the damage to her bike. Children’s literature, through the medium of picture books, is able to lead the reader to insights without being contrived or preachy in approach. This story offers an opportunity to begin a conversation about the differences between those who have and those who have not.
Although Joseph’s Big Ride can simply be enjoyed as a story of a young boy achieving his dream, it could also be included as part of a study of immigration and global migration. For additional suggested titles that focus on commonalities and differences within “new arrival” cultures and “long-term communities” explore the recommended list of titles at this website: I’m Your Neighbour (http://www.imyourneighborbooks.org/).
Joanie Proske is a teacher-librarian in the Langley School District, Langley, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.