I was delighted to be invited to join the 12 Days of Christmas blog tour as it was such an enjoyable experience last year and I do urge you to read the recommendations by my fantastic fellow bloggers on the tour.
This time around I am revisiting one of my all-time favourite picture books, Refuge. It was first published in 2015 and resonates as powerfully now as it did then. The marriage of Anne Booth’s thoughtful retelling of the Nativity story with Sam Usher’s artwork is utter perfection, drawing parallels between the ancient story and the plight of so many in the present day.
Before the title page, the clue to the narrator is given in a spread depicting a small donkey tethered outside a small dwelling, set against a huge golden sky. The book begins with a stark sentence on a spread which shows three small figures travelling across a vast landscape:
The man led me, and I carried the woman all the way to Bethlehem…page 2
Subsequent pages reveal the traditional story of the birth of a baby, and visitations by shepherds and kings. However, the story is extended beyond that normally enacted in a school nativity, with the new family fleeing from a dream of danger, under cover of darkness. The flight into Egypt is recounted with simple words and compelling illustrations which encourage you to pause and reflect on the whole picture; a universal, poignant tale of love and hope. The descriptions of the parents kissing their new baby before wrapping him up for a journey into the unknown to flee the danger that threatens them is quite heartbreaking when you appreciate that this situation faces so many families in the world today. The washed out greys and blues of Sam Usher’s art invoke a sense of exhaustion but every time I open this book I am moved by the use of gold and deep yellows to express hope and kindness and love.
The repeated phrase “the kindness of strangers” reminds us of the essence of Christmas and I feel that Anne Booth, in writing this book without specifically naming Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, must have intended to make us consider the many families who need our love and kindness. I think that it is a wonderful book that could be shared with children of any age within a primary school setting or amongst families at home. It is a book to prompt valuable discussion and quiet reflection and I think that its universal theme makes it appropriate for everyone. I love this book and I hope that you will too.
Make sure that you check out the remainder of the recommendations by following the blog schedule, there’s something for everyone. Merry Christmas!