Review Blog

Jul 15 2019

A grain of hope by Nicola Philp

cover image

Illus. by Aldy Aguirre. Publishink Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780648348641.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: Refugees, Dogs, War, Abuse. Picking up a small publisher's book is always fraught for a reviewer. Sourcing that book can be difficult for a librarian with limited time so other considerations necessarily inform the review. But this one is worth seeking out.
The story presented in A grain of hope is told in a different way, its illustrations arresting and the whole evokes a poignancy unable to be shaken off.
On each side of the double page a story is told. On the left hand page (verso) is the tale of a dog, Dok, while the right hand page (recto) shows the tale of a child, Hanan. Each page reflects the changes in the lives of Hanan and the puppy. After a warm comforting childhood for both, Dok must learn a new house, away from its mother, while Hanan is aware that her family is troubled.
As time passes, Dok tries to avoid the pain inflicted upon her, while Hanan learns of the deaths of some of her family.
Their stories come together as a van arrives for them both: Dok is taken to an animal rescue facility, while Hanan and her family try to escape the war around them.
The abuse of the dog on the verso is contrasted with the increasing touches of war on the recto.
After this the comparison between Dok and Hanan is even more confronting. The dog is treated well, staying in its cage until a kind generous family comes and adopts her. While on the recto, Hanan is being transferred from one boat to another in the arms of her mother, until they are put behind bars in a detention facility with no idea of what is happening or where they will go.
The situation for Dok and Hanan are now reversed.
Readers will understand the message of the book without prompting: that we treat our refugees less than dogs. Both Hanan and Dok have similar stories until the end, when one is taken into the heart of the family, and the other relegated to life in detention.
Our obligation to take refugees into our country has been relegated to a political act by our governments, unwilling to compromise. This situation is presented in many books published recently (Room on our rock, Mediterranean, Boy at the back of the class, Wisp, Waves, Displaced etc) telling of the refugee impasse in Australia and A grain of hope fits well with these to encourage readers to look outside their own safe home and welcome those who do not have one.
Just as the story is different, so too are the illustrations. This artist from the Phillipines uses a wash of water colour to give his drawings an extra sadness. They have an ethereal quality, some almost lost on the page, which makes them memorable and underlines the pathos of Hunan's dreadful situation.
Readers will instantly empathise with Hanan's situation, being handed over the side of a ship, found by a Navy patrol boat and then relegated to a position behind bars, her misery plain for all to see.
Fran Knight

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