________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 12. . . November 24, 2017


The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story.

Veronika Martenova Charles.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus. 2017.
32 pp., hc. & html, $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77108-465-9 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77108-474-1 (html).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Linda Ludke.

***½ /4


Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were of afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.


This was where Emma lived.


In this moving, allegorical picture book, a young girl lives in a divided world. On Emma’s side of the wall, “people spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other.” After Emma’s parents are caught listening to “voices from the outside”, they are taken away by the authorities, and the frightened child is sent to live with her austere Aunt Lily. Ignored and treated like a servant in her new home, Emma finds solace in her drawings and in her aspirations of becoming an artist. Disapproving Aunt Lily quickly dashes Emma’s dreams and admonishes her to “do something useful.” Despondent, Emma finds her mother’s old rag doll in the attic and is surprised when it starts speaking words of encouragement. With the doll’s support, Emma summons her courage and boards a boat destined for a “land on the other side of the ocean …where dreams come true.”

     Veronika Martenova Charles’ watercolour illustrations evocatively capture Emma’s feelings of loneliness and displacement. After surviving a harrowing sea journey, she is temporarily taken to a building where “other grey people wandered the hallways.” Emma’s purple summer dress glows like a beacon of hope in the sombre sketch, surrounded by shadowy, faceless refugees, hunched with fear. A kind lady takes Emma’s hand and literally and figuratively walks her through a strange new world, bursting with colourful houses, cars and stores. Words and letters in Emma’s new environment look like hieroglyphics and make no sense to her. In a poignant scene, Emma sits by herself in a corner while other girls chat amiably amongst themselves. She is surrounded by signs on the wall in incomprehensible squiggles.

     Emma perseveres and finds her voice through her artwork. After receiving a gift of a paint box and brushes, she follows the doll’s wise advice: “observe everything around you and speak with your drawings.” Sun-drenched pages show Emma painting in a park, surrounded by the beauty of marigolds, roses and lupins, and enjoying all the colours missing from her former life. When a little boy compliments her picture, Emma uses her newly acquired words to communicate and graciously pays the kindness she has been shown forward.

     In an afterword, Veronica Martenova Charles shares her own personal story about being born and raised in Prague, where “double fences of barbed wire with guard towers were placed along [the] dividing border and were patrolled with armed guards”. She describes her immigration journey to Canada and closes with this thoughtful sentence: “Kindness and compassion, the human traits that help us all in times of need, remain.”

     With powerful imagery and heart-felt emotion, The Land Beyond the Wall will spark discussion and reflection.

Highly Recommended.

Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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