Francesca Sanna symbolically recreates the journey of a family of refugees, illustrating the paradoxes, turmoils and fears of our time

Francesca Sanna, The Journey

Published 2016 by Flying Eye Books


One of the most sensitive and realistic picture books published in 2016 is Francesca Sanna’s The Journey. In a time when we are scandalized and hurt by the world’s socio-political events, this little book becomes a manifesto, questioning the human behavior and appealing to consciousness, compassion and peace.

The book was written after Sanna had met two girls in a refugee centre in Italy. Touched by the intensity of their story, the author spent more time collecting other stories and interviewing people from different countries.

Almost every day on the news we hear the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.

A family’s life and happiness are changed forever when the war begins. Their harmony is destroyed and chaos begins. When the father is killed, the mother has to take a difficult decision for the safety of her two children. Desperate, she decides to leave the country and begin a dangerous journey to a faraway country. We will go there and not be frightened anymore.

Leaving the war’s dark hands behind, the three will begin the most uncertain adventure of their lives. The physical and mental effort is overwhelming. They travel at night to avoid being seen and keep going for days, abandoning their belongings.

The enormous wall at the border will scare and intimidate them. They hide in the forest, fighting frightening visions. While the children are asleep, the mother allows herself to feel week and she cries holding her the kids tight.


Soon after they manage to cross the border, they embark on a crowded ferry, hoping to arrive safe on land.


We tell each other new stories. Stories about the land we are heading to, where the big green forests are filled with kind fairies that dance and give us magic spells to end the war.

Sanna chose the boy to be the voice of the story, mixing the devastating effects of war with the innocence and hope of children. They face death and violence but they find comfort in the love of their mother, in the stories that praise hope and in their unaltered humanity and capacity to regain faith.

Complement The Journey with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, a similar story on the effort of beginning a new life as an immigrant and Armin Greder’s The Island, a profound story on fear and human rights.


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