The Journey is a stunning picture book that sensitively tells the story of a family having to leave their home because of war. I have been wanting to use this book in class for ages and, as it was refugee week, it seemed like an ideal opportunity.
Class 3 started by discussing the cover (we could have spent a whole lesson on this – when I use this book again I think I will).
“There’s suitcases so they are maybe going on holiday?”, they spotted the dark figure and the hands, the birds, the waves (‘I think they’re waves’). They thought the larger figures at the top, of the man with a beard and the shadowy figures were definitely baddies. They noticed the little figures travelling across the picture: ‘maybe it’s like when we draw a story map and it’s showing us their journey? It is called The Journey…’ We had a class discussion at this point: with hindsight I would have given them a copy of the cover to discuss in pairs before feeding back: they all had so much to say and with 32 children it can be hard to include everyone. The cover discussion lasted quite some time, eventually one boy piped up, “Can we read the story now please?” Out of the mouth of babes…
So eventually we began the story. Each page prompted discussion: it begins on the beach – we live near the sea and we talked about how their lives were similar to ours. But why was the sea black? Was it pollution? A monster? A bad spell? Over the next few pages the blackness spreads across the page and there was much discussion about why and what this was. It fascinates me listening to discussions between children as they link their experiences (of life and other stories) to justify their ideas.
The children noticed the tiniest details in the pictures. I continually had to flip back as they wanted to make links and explain their thoughts by returning to previous pages. This is interesting as some children clearly articulate their ideas: “The dark is evil. Black in stories usually means badness.” “It’s not really there it’s just a way of showing things are bad because of the war.” Other children’s ideas show they haven’t grasped what is happening in the story: this is an opportunity to clarify and question to tease out their understanding. If we didn’t have this book-chat, when would this happen?
There is a page which shows a similar picture: one when the children are awake and one when they are asleep and the mother is crying.
The accompanying text (narrated by a child) says that the mother is never scared. This page prompted lots of chat: they noticed the colours – why would the artist do that? One girl said, “The mum is being brave for the children because she doesn’t want them to be scared. But really she is scared that’s why she is crying when they are asleep, so they won’t know.”
When we got to the end there was some disappointment, “Is that the end?!” There is no neatly tied up happy ending here. We are left wondering what happened to them but also feeling hopeful for their future. When I read the Author’s Note at the end, the children were quiet and we chatted about how not everyone is as fortunate as we are. We compared the story to ‘Refuge’ which I read them at Christmas.
We spent an entire afternoon on this book and the discussions were rich but you could easily spend weeks working with this book – I wish I’d had more time.
For a follow on activity and to get the children reflecting, I wanted them to think about what they might take with them if they had to leave their home and I made little suitcases for them to write/draw their ideas inside.
Without wishing to generalise (!), mostly the girls were practical: first aid kit, sleeping bags, food, money, etc. and a little sentimental – favourite teddies, photos, etc. The boys, generally speaking, were a little more ‘ego-centric’…
At least he’d take his goldfish!
This is the first time I’ve read this book with a class and I will definitely use it again: I’ll spread it over a few days next time I think. We got a lot from it but I think we could have got more if we had slowed down.