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Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders

Migrations: Open Hearts, Open Borders

Shaun Tan
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781910959800

This extraordinary book comes from the innovative imprint Otter-Barry whose thought-provoking titles never fail to surprise and delight. It derives from the initiative of the International Centre for the Picture Book in Society, founded by Piet Gobler and Tobias Hickey. Using the idea of birds as a metaphor for migration, picture book illustrators from around the world were invited to contribute a bird themed image and accompanying words on a postcard (franked and stamped from the country of origin). Originally, there were 300 of these which formed part of a display at the Bratislava Bienniele. Now a select 50 have been chosen to form this beautiful and original book, whose proceeds go to Amnesty and IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People).

Departing from the brief just slightly, the end papers give us the dream partnership of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (of Lost Words fame). Jackie Morris' peregrines - in shades of grey against a muted gold background - envelop the space and Robert Macfarlane's 'Peregrine' acrostic reminds us just how powerful this form can be: 'Peregrine is pilgrim-bird - world-wanderer, cloud-splitter / Ever looked up, seen peregrine / Race sun across the sky, leave light for dust?/'.

There is an introduction by Shaun Tan who writes powerfully and poetically as he explores the theme of flight: 'Like the Arctic Tern, setting out for a new nest some 20,000 km away, flying through darkness with only the thinnest of magnetic songs for bearings, the migrant moves into the unknown, which holds both promises and fears.' And it's Shaun Tan's postcard that we meet first in the opening section of the book: 'Departures'. (Other sections are: Long Journeys, Arrivals and Hope for the Future.) The facsimile of his postcard is lavishly adorned with colourful Australian stamps and carries the quiet thought that 'Where there is change / there is hope. / Where there is hope / there is life./'. For his illustration, an origami bird rises from the torn corner of an envelope. The bird is fashioned from this ancient envelope franked with Italian stamps and postmark hinting perhaps of the significant post-war Italian immigration to Australia.

There is a fascinating array of responses to the brief: Kana Okita offers a Matisse-like line drawing of a bird on blue with the message 'Hope!' Stian Hole's swallow leaves a contrail of vividly coloured flowers against a blue sky. The artist has chosen a companion poem by Hauge, 'It's that dream that we carry with us / that something wonderful will happen /'.

Amongst the personal messages of hope are snatches of poetic language. Mira Widhayati's bird in mid-flight against an indigo night sky is accompanied by these simple and poignant lines: 'There are stars / even in the darkest night. / And soon / the sun will rise with its light.//' Jane Ray's beautiful jewel like bird is complemented by Emily Dickinson's poem: '"Hope" is the thing with feathers - / That perches in the soul - /'.

And there are lovely touches of humour. Axel Scheffler's flight of birds find themselves approaching a border control post in the sky with the words: 'Borders - not what they used to be'!

Otter-Barry intends to distribute the books to as wide a readership as possible including, if feasible, refugee camps. As Kate Kellaway said in a recent review: 'It is impossible not to wish that this book should fly, specifically into the hands of migrants because of its powerful and uplifting lack of sentimentality. Sometimes, it is the simplest ideas that move us most.'

The possibilities for schools are endless. There is so much here to see, absorb and scrutinise as well as the profoundly important message: the images, words, stamps, handwriting. It has huge potential for children to generate their own images and words. There should be a copy of this book in every classroom in the country.

112 pages / Ages 8-adult / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant


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