Written by Jairo Buitrago, Illustrated by Rafael Yockteng
Groundwood Books, 2015
When we travel, I count what I see.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl and her father leave their home to go to a new country.
The girl counts animals as they prepare to ride the raft that carries them across the river. When they get to the train, she counts the people living by the tracks. When the train comes in, they climb on top of a car and as they roll along, she counts the clouds and looks for shapes in them. The train stops and the girl’s father runs away from the train, carrying her in his arms. She asks him where they’re going, but he doesn’t answer. They wait by the highway for a while and she meets a boy to play with while her father does some work. The boy has two white rabbits in a box and when the truck comes that will take the girl and her father onward, he gives the rabbits to her. As they travel through the night, she counts the stars, but not the soldiers they sometimes see. They travel on and her father releases the rabbits and lets them run free.
Author Jairo Buitrago made a lot of Best of 2015 book lists with this very timely story about immigrants fleeing their country. I think it was a very smart choice to give us just a slice of the full story on these two people. We don’t know why they’re leaving their home or where they’re headed, although it’s easy for older readers to make some deductions on their own based on context clues. Mr. Buitrago also doesn’t tell us how their story ends, which then encourages us to wonder about them and hope for the best for them. And I think that if we can be interested in these two fictional refugees, maybe that will lead to us taking an interest in real refugees who face this struggle every day.
The illustrations were done digitally by Rafael Yockteng and they show us more than the narrator tells us in her version of the story, particularly in the image of people running away from the train. The fact that she doesn’t seem scared or worried during their journey is a testament to the trust she has in her father. A note in the back of the book gives more information about the dangers facing refugees and encourages the readers to ask themselves what they can do to help. It’s a complex subject, but this book handles it in a straightforward way that is likely to be a springboard for discussion with your young reader.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that every refugee has their own story and they have a right to tell it in a safe place.