And so, it is the season of Christmas, and with that, the season of Christmas books. However, this book is one with a difference: it is a seasonal book that is for the whole year.
On the bookshelves, snuggling in with the tinsel and Father Christmas themes and happy, 'ho-ho-ho' stories is this book by Nadia Wheatley and Armin Greder. Flight draws it's theme from the story of an ancient Jewish family, fleeing from the oppression of the government to safety. The cover depicts, at a quick glance, an almost traditional Christmas card scene, minus the colour and glitter, giant star and stable. It could be Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem, but with a closer look, the Mary figure is carrying a baby, so it is a post Christmas story....or is it?
Illustrated in Greder's usual, strong, earthy tones, the darkness of night is strongly portrayed in this story. The travelling away from danger into the unknown, the unseen, the shadows. The simplicity of the images gives room for the imagination to fill in those dark spaces, to put in place what we think might be the historical story of this couple fleeing Herod's hatred.
'Tonight is the night. The family has to flee. They've been tipped off that the authorities are after their blood.'
Using mostly black and white tonal images, Greder charts our way through Wheatley's strong and minimal narrative, one that is not the expected tradition version of our modernised and sanitised Christmas story. They follow the stars, as have many travellers through history, to know where they are heading. Soon, our traditional Christmas couple with babe in arm is confronted with colour.: 'The night's bombardment has started.'
We are immediately drawn into a page of doubt and and questioning confronted ourselves with Wheatley's direction: were there bombs in the biblical story? Of course not, so what is going on?
As the story moves on, the family are faced with danger, anxiety, loss and fear. Tanks appear on the horizon, their water runs low. they have lost everything but themselves in a scene which has suddenly moved us into our own place and time in history.
They struggle against wind and sand as they trek on foot, feeding the baby from the breast, asking God to help them make it through. 'Inshallah'. He prays on a prayer mat. 'God willing.'
The mother sings to her baby, 'Lulla lulla ... Lulla bye bye ...' 'He reckons there is enough [water] to to keep them going until noon. Inshallah.'
We journey through, with the couple and child until they see what appears to be a small town in the desert. Is this the Egypt of biblical times? No, it is a refugee camp, filled with tents for those who have nowhere else to go. Modern Egypt is still a place for refugees to flee to. The little boy grows, the family must wait among the many for the hope of help.
'One day,' he promises his mother, 'we will reach our new home.'
Flight is a powerful book, one that moves us away from our complacency of a glittery Christmas, fretting over our obligations to consumerist gift giving, grumbling about time spent with family and how tired we are because of the 'silly season'. Flight moves us away from our TV screens where we watch the plight of the worlds discarded and forgotten, the refugees and asylum seekers that have become another familiar and over whelming issue, so much so that we just blank them out of our hearts and minds because it is all too hard.
Just like the glossy modern spin on the Christmas story celebrated by many, both religious and not the world over, we have learned to turn off the images that speak of the truth of the story and make excuses as to why we do what we do. Flight opens a new door, to remind us of that history, the original Christmas story is not a pretty one filled with a blond haired, blue eyed baby and his pretty young mother. It is a story of fear and death, of oppression and a life that was spent fighting against oppression. How do we forget that while we dress our trees and light up our houses with cliched reindeer and wind filled Santas?
Joseph, Mary and their son, Jesus, were refugees that fled to Egypt, just as the family in Wheatley's story do. They flee with hope that they might have a future ahead of them, just as refugees do today, the world over. Carried by donkey, by truck, by train, on foot or by boat, they hope that people will hear their cries for help.
This is a book for a planet in dire need of compassion and acceptance. Wheatley's timely story reminds us that we are all in need of help, regardless of our faith or culture. That we all need to help and that while we celebrate one story, we cannot forget the one facing us right now.
Inshallah. God willing....... let us hear them.
Flight, written by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books),
Flight, by Nadia Wheatley , illustrated by Armin Greder
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