Under the red shawl by Vikki Conley. Illus. by Martina Heiduczek

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This endearing look at the life of a woman and her baby son, trying to find a place of safety parallels the story of the shawl, first used as a baby blanket and carry scarf, a tent and a rug, then as a bed cover but finally after finding a hone, the shawl is now too small to cover them. In this way the author shows the longevity of many refugees’ search for a safe haven. Without showing the horror from which they are running, the illustrator instead shows them as part of a stream of refugees leaving their city, while on the road the loneliness and contrasting blazing sun and sleeting snow shows the distance they are covering to reach their goal.

In a spare text, Coney depicts the plight of the refugee, with little or no possessions, the shawl is a baby blanket, a cover to keep out the sun and wind, a carry scarf for the baby, a rug to put on the dry earth to sit on, a blanket to keep them both warm, a tent to shelter under and finally a template for more scarves to sew and sell.

It is a warm, thought provoking story of loss and privation, or people searching for a new place of shelter, of the power of stories to keep imagination alive.

Martina’s illustrations are full of colour and life, as the boy grows from a baby to a toddler, to a young boy singing the new song of his life with his mother. Martina likes to have readers think about what they are seeing; she likes to provoke readers to see beyond the pages asking questions about their background, her husband, the trip they are taking and where they end up. All sorts of questions will emanate from inquisitive children, looking for clues on the pages but also bringing in stories they have heard.

Find out more about Martina here.

Themes: Refugees, Journey, Scarf, Loss, Imagination, Stories.

Fran Knight