I cannot imagine living in a place of war, or poverty or danger, I also cannot imagine being forced to leave that place, my home, and start a new life somewhere completely alien. I think myself very lucky to have everything I need, to be safe, to be stable, and I my appreciation comes from knowing that people do not have the life I lead. This is what books give us, and this is what books teach children. This is Anita and the Dragons written by Hannah Carmona, illustrated by Anna Cunha and published by Lantana Publishing and welcome to MY stop on the blog tour!
For years Anita has watched the dragons (ie planes) fly overhead, prepared to one day be taken by them too. When that day comes, Anita is forced to muster all her strength and courage, despite bubbling fears, and board the dragon to leave her island home and everything she loves there.
I have read many many picture books on the topic of migration and I can confidently say that Anita and the Dragons is my favourite. Hannah Carmona’s writing in this book is poetic and gentle, but the thing I loved most about it was the conflict of emotions she has been able to convey. Anita is leaving her island, and although there are declarations of a better life, of reliable electricity, restaurants and much more, the island is all Anita has ever known, and it’s home to her. There is one page in the book which describes her island, and it is utterly beautiful! It made me want to be right there, and it made my heart break for Anita who has to leave such a clearly much loved place and people. The conflict Anita feels in this book are some emotions that have never been so fully realised to me in a picture book of this kind.
As Anita faces each step towards the “dragons” and leaving with her family, she talks of being brave, strong and courageous. But the text is so incredibly clever, because somehow Hannah has managed to convey how incredibly difficult that is for Anita. She walks towards a new life for her and her family with an aparent confidence, yet the text hints at the fear she feels deep down and that this is really, carefully controlled dignity and immeasurable inner strength on her part. There is a lovely little snippet of imaginative play and joke between Anita and her brother, Juan, in the book which serve as a really important reminder, right from the start, that Anita is a child, because she is clearly wiser than her years. It’s a very clever and crucial element.
Of course the text just tells one half of the story of a picture book, and Anita and the Dragons is one of the most spectacularly illustrated picture books so far this year. I have a real fondness for sea greens at the best of times, but the colour palette of this story of pastel shades all different colours on a backdrop of soft sea hues makes it feel quite unique and the Caribbean feel bursts from every spread.
Where Hannah’s gorgeous text speaks of bravery and new challenges and adventures, Anna Cunha’s illustration of Anita carries across all her feelings in the most gorgeous artwork. Where her face cannot be made out, her body language speaks volumes about her worries and unsureness in this new situation and her true love of the land she calls home. The close up of Anita breathing in her beloved island is full of love and strength and a little bit of sadness too. How is it even possible to inject so much emotion into one face?
But Anna’s illustrations also show the power of family and the love and bond Anita and her family share as they head together on a new adventure. It provides a feeling of hope, that although she’s afraid, they have each other, that family love, that will help to make them feel at home as long as they are together.
Anita and the Dragons is a real story, which is what Lantana do so well, and with two wonderful creative talents on board, they’ve told this story with real emotion, real beauty and real love. The ideal read for empathy.
ANITA AND THE DRAGONS is now available in all good bookshops! OR, buy your copy from Lantana’s online shop and donate a book to children who need books with your purchase: www.lantanapublishing.com
Thank you to Lantana for sending me a copy of Anita and the Dragons for my honest opinions and thank you for reading this Book Monster review.