________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 2. . . .September 15, 2017

cover

Out.

Angela May George. Illustrated by Owen Swan.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $14.99.
ISBN 978-1-4431-5730-8.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Alex Matheson.

**** /4

   

excerpt:

Iím called an asylum seeker, but thatís not my name.

***

Now that weíre here, life on the boat seems so long ago.
These days, I run to win races.
These days, we camp for fun.

 

Out is the story of a young girl and her mother who are refugees making the journey to a new country to make a new life for themselves. It speaks to, but does not go into great detail about, the type of life they had before making the difficult journey across an ocean. It does explore the difficulties and joys of adjusting to a new home. The prose is effective, and the illustrations, rendered in watercolour, pencils and coloured marker, are simple, yet beautiful.

     The plot of the story largely revolves around the new life the young protagonist has started with her mother. The girl tells readers her name is not asylum seeker, but she does not tell readers what her name is. We know she came from a country experiencing war, but not which one. We know she has taken a boat to a new country, but it is not named (though we might assume it is Australia based on the authorís country of origin). In these ways, the young girl could be any girl, her new home any developed country. Her experience is that of many refugees and is important to highlight.

     Visually, the book has calm and pleasing images, even when illustrating difficult times. Each illustration is a two-page spread, and as readers follow the protagonist into a new and happier life, they slowly see the images become more colourful. A bright yellow ribbon, or string, provides a vibrant motif that ties the story together. It serves as a hair tie, a toy, an imaginary fishing line, and a bag closure. It is especially effective in an image composed from above of the young girl and her mother on a dull grey boat surrounded by dark blue ocean. Perhaps it stands for the importance of hanging on to a piece of our past, remembering where we come from, and of hope when everything else is looking bleak.

     While not every refugee story has a happy ending, this one does. Often when we hear that a story will be about refugees, we expect to encounter some heavy realities. These are present, but not dwelled upon. For those who are looking to gently introduce their children to the consequences of war and famine, Out would be a good jumping off point. For those seeking to really delve into the realities of life in a country at war or experiencing famine, they would be better served to look elsewhere. It is certainly a good point for starting a discussion about the different kinds of people who live in our communities, though, and how everyone has a story, some happier or more difficult than others. Out is not so much a story of war as it is a story of some of the effects that it has on a child. It is a story about trying to adapt to a new culture and a new home.

     While it is nice to hear people tell stories in their own voices, this does not seem to be the case when it comes to Out. Materials from the publisher suggest this was a story inspired by a young boy taught by the authorís mother. Either way, this story is told beautifully, thoughtfully, and with compassion and empathy. Out would make a good addition to libraries and classrooms. While it would likely be better presented in a situation where a conversation can be had (hence my higher-than-usual recommended age range for a picture book compared to the publisherís recommended 4-8), it is light enough for older children to read on their own.

Highly Recommended.

Alex Matheson is a childrenís and teenís librarian in Vancouver, BC.

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

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