PPBF – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is a self-import from Toronto, Canada. I visited there last weekend with my husband to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. Knowing that the independent Canadian children’s publishers often tackle difficult subjects, I couldn’t help but drag my husband to a bookstore – Another Story, where I found sections of the children’s area devoted to topics such as multicultural books, bullying, feelings and many others (the themes of “social justice, equity, and diversity” are highlighted on their website). I heartily recommend spending a few hours there! Interestingly, I also happened to read in a New York Times article a few days ago that a milestone has been reached: the time period since the Berlin Wall fell now exceeds the time period that it stood. As a wall features in today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t think of a better time to review it!

homegraphic02Title: The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

Written & Illustrated By: Veronika Martenova Charles

Publisher/date: Nimbus Publishing/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; art; allegory; following dreams; walls

Opening:

Once, the world was divided by a BIG wall. On one side the sun rarely shone. Fields lay bare, towns and villages were grey, and shops were empty. People spoke in whispers because they were afraid of each other. They could not even trust their friends.

NOBODY WAS ALLOWED OUTSIDE THE WALL.

This was where Emma lived.

Brief Synopsis:

After her parents disappear and she is forced to live with an aunt who thinks that art isn’t useful, a young girl escapes her dreary life to resettle as an immigrant in a new land of happiness and colour.

Links to Resources:

  • In an Afterword, Charles recounts her own story of defection from the Eastern Bloc;
  • Learn about the “Iron Curtain” that separated the Communist Eastern Bloc from the free world;
  • Use your brightest crayons or colored pencils to draw a room or area outdoors; then draw the same space without color and without the things that make that room or area colorful. Which do you like better? Why?

Why I Like this Book:

The Land Beyond the Wall has a fairy-tale aspect to it from its beginning, “Once,” to the end. As in fairy tales, Emma has a friend, an old doll that had been her mother’s doll, who comforts and counsels her. Emma journeys on a boat that magically appears and then sails for days across stormy seas to a “land where dreams come true.” But before those dreams come true, she loses something, her voice. Only with perseverance can she find her voice again.

I like Martenova Charles’ analogy of physically losing one’s voice to the experience of immigrants who don’t speak or understand a language in the new land. I think this is a wonderful way to explain to children what it’s like to live in another country, whether by choice or, in the case of refugees, necessity. I also like that Martenova Charles ties the pursuit of art and beauty to freedom.

Martenova Charles’ soft, pastel illustrations help define the two lands, the dreary, more gray and brown area of the land where Emma was born, portrayed with charcoal, and the colorful area beyond the wall. To see an interior spread, look here.

A Note about Craft:

The Land Beyond the Wall is a semi-autobiographical story. Martenova Charles immigrated to Canada in 1970 and spent her first days in the country in a group setting in Nova Scotia, much like the “maze of corridors and halls” she describes in The Land Beyond the Wall. Martenova Charles was a young adult at the time, however, unlike the much younger Emma. I think by decreasing Emma’s age and adding the fairy tale elements, Martenova Charles renders the story much more kid-relatable. For authors who want to write a personal story, I think it’s helpful to remember that it’s the essence of the story, and not the actual details, that’s most important to retain.

I love the opening lines, in which the Wall itself is portrayed almost as a character – the one dividing the two worlds. By opening the story in this way, I think Martenova Charles is able to keep the focus on the difference between the two societies, rather than on the reason they are different, which would be a very difficult subject to try to explain to young children.

Find out more about Veronika Martenova Charles.

Nimbus Publishing “is the largest English-language publisher east of Toronto. Nimbus produces more than thirty new titles a year on a range of subjects relevant to the Atlantic Provinces” of Canada, including children’s picture books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

2 responses to “PPBF – The Land Beyond the Wall: An Immigration Story

  1. Such a great find about the Big wall! I remember that period so clearly and its message it SO TIMELY TODAY! A reporter friend of mine was there when the wall came down and covered it. I so agree with you about Canadian publishers — they DO tackle subjects US publishers don’t! I am not familiar with Nimbus Publishing and will check it out! (Aren’t you thrilled Refugee won a Cybils for best MG!)

    • Agreed – this is a very timely book for these times. And I remember the wall, and the fall of the wall, vividly, too (I was glued to the television as I nursed my second child). Nimbus Publishing seems to be more regionally focused than the other Canadian publishers I’ve found, but their titles look interesting. And I, too, was thrilled with Refugee’s recognition, and also very happy for the Caldecott honor for A Different Pond.

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