Like many library employees, I love books—mostly fiction, and the bigger the better. When my kids were younger they started bringing home graphic novels, and I must admit I didn’t really appreciate them at the time. I love words, and the pictures just seemed to get in the way. Fast forward a few years and I was picking up a hold for one of my children. It was the graphic novel Maus, a Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Spiegelman . It is not surprising that this Pulitzer prize winning book, sometimes referred to as the greatest graphic novel of all time, drew me right in. Written over 30 years ago, Maus was a game changer, proving that complex mature themes can be retold with impact in a graphic narrative.
In recent years, amidst growing numbers of displaced people (1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee), there have been a number of excellent graphic novels published that put a face to the struggles that refugees endure. They provide us with a way of ‘understanding the individuals behind the numbers’, which can only encourage compassion when it is so needed.
Threads takes us into the French port town of Calais where a city has developed within this ancient city of lace. Aptly known as the ‘Jungle’, hopefully a stepping stone to the UK , it is home to thousands of refugees, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. Kate Evans travelled to the Calais Jungle and gives a vivid firsthand report, ‘both capturing the wrenching reality of a seemingly intractable problem and making an eloquent argument for its solution: open borders.’ I thought Threads was an incredible, moving, raw read.
Bestselling author Eoin Colfer, of Artemis Fowl fame, along with Andrew Donkin, published Illegal in 2018. This graphic novel, although found in the children’s section, does not shy away from difficult topics. It is heart-wrenching and real in its retelling of the story of Ebo, a young boy from Ghana who makes the epic journey across the Sahara Desert to Tripoli, and eventually into the merciless sea, always hoping against hope to be reunited with his family and a new beginning.
Peopled by animals, The Strange tells the story of one refugee’s journey as he tries to bring a new life in the West, where he is unable to speak the language. The story is told by a number of different narrators, people he has crossed paths with—police, neighbours, strangers, helpers. The illustrations are strikingly done in black and white, with splashes of red and orange. Ruillier collected material for the novel from “the accounts of undocumented immigrants and their families, as well as police officers and other people close to the issue”
The Arrival, by author Shaun Tan, is a wonder of a book. It is completely wordless, but that doesn’t detract from the story, instead drawing you in to look closely at a landscape that looks both fantastical and real. Brian Selznick (author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret) remarks, ‘how it slowly dawned on me that this bizarre world was how any immigrant might see the new place they go…everything is different and scary and magical.’
You can also check-out these other titles from the Winnipeg Public Library catalogue:
Like games? Created in Winnipeg by Michelle Lam, Refugee Journeys is ‘based on a simple “snakes and ladders” game concept—players move forward, backward, or miss turns based on the cards they draw or the spaces they land on. Cards include integration experiences of real refugees, drawn from academic research, news and media, and the game creator’s personal experiences’.