Hannah Carmona: Anita and the Dragons

Illustrated by Anna Cunha

Published by Lantana Publishing Ltd, UK, 2021

In the early 1950s, when my father was 17 years old, he left his small village at the foot of the northern mountains in Italy and ventured alone by boat to Australia. I can’t imagine the kind of bravery that takes. To leave all that is known and loved and take steps towards all that is unknown and unseen, is a lesson in understanding oneself and finding courage to face whatever dragons come your way. For my father, everything was new: the language, the food, the culture, the work, the people and the place. But despite the hardships and the challenges, he made a life for himself here, taking the best values from his home in Italy and his home in Australia to forge something good for his long life.

Anita, in this story, is leaving her village in the Dominican Republic and travelling with her family to America. She refers to the planes that will take her away as the dragons which look like large, winged beasts. Anita is a brave and feisty princesa in her village but as she thinks about what the future will look like and what she will be leaving behind, she compares the reality of what she has with the opportunities that are yet to come. Hot water, reliable electricity, and fancy restaurants all sound exciting, but Anita’s abuela is not coming and no longer will Anita breathe the salty air or dance in the blue waves in the spicy heat of the day. No longer will she be the adored princesa, the centre of life in her village.

As Anita and her family board the mighty plane, humming in readiness for departure, she cries aloud all the thoughts that are unspoken but threatening to overwhelm everyone:

“I won’t let this horrible beast take me away from everything I love! What if I hate it? What if I’m lonely? What if I get scared? What if I’m sad? What if I’m NOT brave at all?”

Despite the unanswered questions, despite the anxiety and not knowing what is ahead, the family bravely face the dragon of the air and whatever adventures await them on the other side of this momentous flight.

This is a story of courage and bravery during immigration, the rending of a heart torn between the known and the unknown and the emotional and physical upheaval of leaving one’s country for another. The illustrations are tender, and imbued with soft colours, creating a sense of place and helping the reader to visualise the bonds that tie us to our family and our home.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more stories that explore the idea of immigration, moving house and home, and what that might feel like in different situations:

Migrant by Maxine Trottier Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn Illustrated by Barbara L.Gibson

The Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

I Dream of Popo
by Livia Blackburne
Illustrated by Julia Kuo

I’m an Immigrant too! by Mem Fox Illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Bui

The Dress and the Girl
by Camille Andros
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Bad Bye, Good Bye
by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Jonathan Bean

The Matchbox Diary
by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson
Illustrated by Liz Anelli

Eureka! A Story of the Goldfields
by Mark Wilson

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Laura Carlin

The Color of Home
by Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by Karin Littlewood

All the Way to America
by Dan Yaccarino

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

I’m New Here
by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Waves: for those who come across the sea by Donna Rawlins Illustrated by Heather Potter
and Mark Jackson

Cori Doerrfeld: Say Goodbye…Say Hello

Illustrated by the author

Published by Scallywag Press Ltd, London, 2020

Have you ever watched Sliding Doors? I’ll never forget Gwyneth Paltrow missing the train in one version of the story and catching the train in the other. The changes in her life all hinged on that one event. Does it make you wonder if this is the same for all of us? Life can feel like it is full of opening and closing doors. Simple decisions we make everyday have the potential to take us along different paths. Big decisions can too but we make them more consciously and we take time to weigh up the potential consequences of our choices, so I suppose it feels like we are more in control, but are we really?

This picture book by Cori Doerrfeld explores the ending and beginning of new experiences. Sometimes we have to say goodbye in order to say hullo. Sometimes, a fun day has to end so that we can embrace the cosiness of night-time.  Sometimes the loss of something or someone special can leave you feeling empty, but also gives a friend the opportunity to offer you comfort and friendship. Experiences that end or begin, whether we want them to or not, whether we planned them or not, can change our lives in ways that we can’t even imagine.

These are difficult concepts for children to understand but the various scenarios presented in this picture book are engagingly illustrated and cleverly chosen. In some ways, the different scenarios are like abstract opposites. Saying goodbye to sitting alone and saying hullo to sitting together. Saying goodbye to frozen snowmen and saying hullo to watery puddles. Saying goodbye to giving up and saying hullo to giving it one more try.

I love the acknowledgment that goodbyes can be sad and not something that you want to experience. Because who knows what is around the corner? It could be worse. But it could be better. Having a conversation like that with your child is one worth having, because life is not all honey and crumpets, and this picture book will certainly get the conversation started!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below are more suggestions for books which explore the themes of leave taking, life changing experiences and saying goodbye:

Goodbye House Hello House by Margaret Wild
Illustrated by Ann James

Clare’s Goodbye by Libby Gleeson Illustrated by Anna Pignataro

Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Gotta Go, Buffalo: A Silly Book of Fun Goodbyes
by Kevin and Haily Meyers

Oh No! Time to Go! A Book of Goodbyes by Rebecca Doughty

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

Oliver and Patch
by Clare Freedman
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

Alexnader, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move
by Judith Viorst
Illustrated by Robin Priess Glasser

A House for Hermit Crab
by Eric Carle