Dial Books, 2019. Hardcover Picture book, 32 pages
Pebble, with its drawn-on eyes and smile, is Lubna’s best friend as they sailed to and arrived at the World of Tents (aka Refugee settlement). Even as her father keeps her close and warm and safe, Lubna keeps Pebble close, warm and safe. Between the two, she seems content. Pebble listens to Lubna’s stories with a comforting smile. Her father is a near constant: close-by, holding her, often smiling. His presence makes the loneliness of Amir’s arrival seem all the more stark.
When Amir arrives to the World of Tents, Lubna will explore and play with him, but Pebble is still her best friend. But once it is time to leave, maybe the boy, Amir, could use Pebble’s friendship more. It is such a generous fare-thee-well gift; the exchange is marvelously sweet.
The wide-eyed close up of Lubna admiring her newly found pebble is echoed with Amir; so is her “hello.” There are a number of echoes and a few thematic elements. Egnéus incorporates a lot of plant imagery into the scenes. When Amir arrives, spread out on the ground before him is pomegranate tree in the monochrome of shadows; when we see this rendering again, the tree is in color. Upon arrival, his arms were folded at his chest, empty; the second image has him cradling Pebble in its box. Plant life lurks within vivid hues at the edges and within the expanse of things–a metaphor for human life and resilience. We see plant life appear vibrant against a night sky, even as the two children are silhouettes at play. The plants appear underwater, us amongst them looking upward.
The angle of the illustrations is an intriguing choice. We are most often either at level or looking upward toward Lubna (just shorter than her). There are few overhead. We are kept to some distance, but always close enough and never superior in perspective. I wonder at how this suits the gentle tone the author brings; the angles certainly emphasize the expressive postures of the characters. The rich blue and green tones are soothing; you’re reminded how warm they are when the wintry scenes come to call.
Lubna and Pebble is a beautiful in color and texture and expression. Meddour will not wax eloquent in order to create emotional impact, she just places her short sentences carefully and chooses her words just as thoughtfully. The absences are noted. For example, Lubna speaks of brothers, but where are they? Why was she arriving on a beach at night? Note the word choices here: Lubna “clutches” her Daddy’s hand and “grips” the pebble; no holding or cradling or hugging. After arriving in a World of Tents, Meddor starts this sentence—”she knew they’d keep her safe”—with “somehow.” There was nothing in the world she’d awoken to that suggests she should feel as safe as she does in that moment; that she could be so certain as to just “know.” The sentence is further complicated in how it follows the sentence where Lubna “clutches” and “grips”…she can’t let go or any certainty or safety will be completely lost to her. Her stability is reliant upon her Daddy and Pebble—which, of course makes her generous gift all the more moving at the end.
Where at the beginning we notice how Lubna is often curled inward, we see her opening in posture and limb with the presence of Amir; until she is handing him a box with the pebble. He holds it “tight.” Lubna is sharing what she can with someone she can empathize with, someone she has come to care for—and it is no small thing, even if it is the size of a pebble. And you are grateful he has it when that final page comes. You are grateful for them both.
Recommended for all the libraries, and those collections of immigrant/refugee books. for children who understand how treasures and friendships with inanimate objects work (e.g. all children).
Wendy Meddour‘s debut children’s book, A Hen in the Wardrobe, was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for Outstanding First Novel. Wendy is also the author of the Wendy Quill series, which have been translated into over 10 languages. She lives in England.
Daniel Egnéus is a Swedish artist who recently illustrated Neil Gaiman’s American Gods Quartet as well as the picture books Raven Child and the Snow Witch and The Thing. Daniel lives in Athens, Greece.