It’s so difficult for settled people to understand the plight of migrants and refugees. In recent times fear of people on the move — looking for work or fleeing war — has seemed to become magnified. There are many aspects to the fear, and it’s easy to fan its flames to the point where we add to the problem in the ways we think we are going to solve it.
It’s a hard thing to understand as adults, much less as children. When children see the news and ask why, what do we say?
In the book Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and illustrated by Rafael Yockeng, there is not so much an explanation as a brief, poetic accompaniment on the migration of one father and his daughter.
The little girl is traveling with her father, but she doesn’t know where they are going. Her spirit immediately shines forth from the grim roads they travel. She counts the animals by the road, the clouds in the sky, the stars. She isn’t old enough to worry yet. Her life is what it is.
The father is trying to keep her safe and contented, but they must travel far for him to work.
“Sometimes, when I’m not sleeping, I count the stars. There are thousands, like people. And I count the moon. It is alone. Sometimes I see soldiers, but I don’t count them anymore. There are about a hundred.”
This book was published by Groundwood Books in 2015. Jairo Buitrago is a children’s book writer who lives in Mexico. He has collaborated with illustrator Rafael Yockteng on several award-winning books. Both the story and the illustration give room for pause, for thinking, as if we are on the road with them, our concerns for safety somewhat muted by the spirit of the little girl.
This is a subtle, warm and thoughtful book. It doesn’t necessarily clarify the migrant situation, it invites you along for part of the journey. It’s a book I would share with all ages, especially middle-schoolers who may have only a vague understanding of the nature of migration. This book is an excellent homage to empathy. The girl’s spirit is so charming, and her tattered stuffed bunny seems like such a dear friend to her. The two white rabbits that appear as the story closes add even more poignancy to her journey.
Migration has always been a part of human existence, and always fraught with fear and often, horror. But it can also be such a good thing, people sharing culture, sharing knowledge, finding common ground. Two White Rabbits doesn’t try to give easy answers, it only shows us a glimpse of one small family’s journey. It leaves me hungry to know more. And that’s the beginning of finding understanding.
For picture book that subtly explores the story of refugees, check out this review of The Journey by Francesca Sanna.
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