An Interview with Francesca Sanna

An incredibly exciting children’s book awards season continues after our own CBA awards, with the CKG17 awards announced yesterday, 19th June. The Amnesty CILIP Honour for the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist went to Francesca Sanna for her debut, The Journey, a picture book depicting a family fleeing their war-torn country in search of refuge, and we are lucky enough to be able to share with you an interview with Francesca.

What inspired the story of The Journey?
The first element that inspired the research behind The Journey was a sense of frustration from the discussions I’d had over and over with friends, colleagues and acquaintances around the topic of “immigration”. The answer in Europe, and around the world, in the last few years to this very complex topic hasn’t been one of dialogue, in my opinion, and I felt a little hopeless about it. So I decided to do the research for my Master in Design about this theme. I ended up hearing some incredible people talking about their powerful stories, and that is definitely what inspired this book.

Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this story?
This is a very important question for this book, because it is in fact a collection of stories and experiences. I interviewed a lot of people before I started creating this story, and they came from many different countries and cultural backgrounds. One time in particular, I was interviewing a young guy from Tibet, but we could not find a way to communicate (he did not speak English but only German, and my German was, and still is, pretty bad!) and after a few attempts we found that the situation was stuck: we really could not understand each other. So we ended up drawing, me to ask him the questions, and he to answer them. It has been an intense and at the same time also funny experience, and since that time I discovered that sketching is a very good way to overcome language barriers!

Your book has opened up discussion for a lot of children on the topic of home, war, and safety; was this your intention? Is it a story with a message?
I am not sure I really want to put a message in the story but, on the other hand, I had a few points and ideas in my mind while I was creating this book. One thing that really made me think is that we have to remind ourselves that the right of having a safe place to live is a human right and a fundamental one. We probably take it for granted, but this was one of the messages that I wanted to convey with The Journey: it is the right of every person and every child to have a safe place, a ‘home’. 

How do you create the stories – do the words or illustrations come first?
In this case, the illustrations came first, because there were many elements I could not explain with the text. I needed a visual narration first.

Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious?
It is always a difficult exercise to empathise with a situation that seems very far away from ours. I would like this book to fill the gap between us and “the others”, and really make a reader think “this could have been me” or “what would I do in a similar situation?”.

What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I am at the moment experimenting with new ideas and topics, and I am in that phase where I am not completely sure about what direction the next work will take. 
One of my dream projects (I definitely have more than one!) would be to work on the theme of gender equality. I am Italian and in my home country there have been a lot of discussions lately whether this topic should be the center of a children’s book and children’s literature or not. I personally think it is very important to talk with children about this issue and I would really like to start a visual research about it.

Flying Eye have generously shared with us a teachers’ resource for the book, which you can click on here: Exploring The Journey together
as well as some beautiful pictures from the interior: TheJourney_prints

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