The creator of The Journey has a new picture book, so naturally, I had to read it.
Flying Eye Books, 2018.
Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages.
Our unnamed narrator’s fear was a healthy, manageable size before she moved. Now it keeps her isolated, she doesn’t eat, and “at night, in my new room, Fear dreams so loudly that I can’t sleep.”
Her Fear is a secret and its depicted as a white creature that when manageable, she can carry, or it takes little space beside her. As it grows it carries her and surrounds her and can be difficult to budge. And while you, and the protagonist think she’s the only one with Fear, a friendly classmate who reaches out to be her friend reveals he has a Fear, too. And then more and more appear. The reader and the narrator come to realize that “everyone else has a fear, too.”
The realization is carried through at the level of endpapers. On the opening endpaper, you can barely see them (I didn’t notice them at all at first), and you’ll still not see them as clearly as you do on the closing endpaper. That a Fear is reading The Scariest Book Ever is especially amusing.
Something else to notice: the summery imagery behind when the girl was more carefree shifts to the sweater-weather and rain of a school-year setting when she feels new and uncertain. These are images that translate well with children, consciously or no.
I appreciate how Fear doesn’t always appear to be unreasonable, and when it becomes out-sized, it is still not always unreasonable. The problem is that Fear becomes a limiting and thus unhelpful companion. Fear can also get out of hand; it is a terrible moment when she admits she’s lonely and how “Fear says it’s because nobody likes me.” She is in a new place, her name is mispronounced, she can’t understand others around her and they can’t understand her—things that cause fear. Loneliness causes Fear. But a classmate proves the lie wrong, that maybe she is liked. Of course, you had that sneaking suspicion that someone wanted to befriend her already, because you recognize the boy. The boy who, sneaking under the table, beneath Fear, is able to extend friendship through art (not unlike what this book is doing).
Francesca Sanna’s way of showing the interaction between a person and their fear invites empathy. There is a lot to love in these 40 pages, but I love is how the Fear that was once isolating, becomes a means of connection. The reader/listener witness the girl’s struggle, and we also witness how once her Fear stops hogging the view (perspective), in an echoed classroom scene, that she “started to notice that everyone else has a fear, too…” You turn the page and even the grown-ups have their Fears. Having Fear is something we all have in common.
Visually appealing and accessible, Me and My Fear will find a broad audience to move and inspire the reader/listener to wonder about other people’s stories and lives—especially those stories and lives immigrants.
Sanna’s imagination invites our own. Her characters invite a consideration of what someone who is new might be experiencing; and to consider how we can make them feel less alone, certainly less afraid. The boy (and the author) offer art. There is a suggestion of making effort when it comes to language, culture, and certainly trying not to mispronounce a name, “even though it was just an accident.” It would be a nice exercise to have after reading the book through, considering what encouraged her Fear to grow/stay big, and what we could do to inspire a confidence to make Fear a more manageable healthy size again.
Recommended for anyone and everyone.
*I will try to remember to review The Journey—it blew me away. In the meantime, read it.