I read this amazing picture book the other day.
At first, you think it’s the story of the Holy Family; the terrifying flight into Egypt away from Herod’s cutthroats. It’s a story we are familiar with. Every time we hear it, we wonder how anyone could set out to harm an innocent young family. However, when army tanks appear in the illustrations, we are jolted into the present and the realisation that the ancient story is repeated every day. On the news, terrified people of all ages flee persecution and death, many young families among the refugees.
In their book, Nadia Wheatley and Armin Greder aim to convey the desperation these people face. The book grew out of Nadia Wheatley’s experiences of growing up around post war refugees. Armin Greder’s gray-toned illustrations communicate the darkness and fear the family endures in their search for a safe place.
While the story is moving, it also raises uncomfortable questions:
How can we identify so readily with the plight of the Holy Family and not with the plight of those seeking asylum in our own time? Why do we believe accounts from two thousand years ago (with what some might call blind faith) yet deny the evidence of our own eyes? Why do we venerate one group of victims yet blame another?
It’s ironic that I’ve discovered this book just as fresh evidence of Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers in off shore detention emerges. It’s enough to make you wonder what would happen to the Holy Family if forced to flee today, not to overpopulated Egypt perhaps, but to promised land somewhere across the sea…