Author: Liz Lofthouse
Illustrator: Robert Ingpen
US Publisher: Kane/Miller
Age group: Elementary aged children to adults
Setting and story:
Ziba Came on a Boat is a stunning picture book with a story, illustrations and backdrop like no other - people escaping war and violence in search of a new land. And with it, they hope for freedom. That creaked and moaned as it rose and fell,
The setting in the story is a boat somewhere in the middle of an "endless" ocean. Ziba, a little girl, rides it with her mother and a group of other people. You can't help but notice the gray and blue colors on the pages, and the sorrow-filled expressions on the faces of the people riding the boat leading you to immediately realize they are not part of a fun-filled and entertaining journey, and you start to wonder if they are refugees of war. Where are they going and what is their story, particularly, the little girl's?
he story begins like this:
Ziba came on a boat. A soggy old fishing boat
Rose and fell, across an endless sea…
As you turn the pages, the setting changes from the boat to a village in a hilly area. Ziba's memories flash back, and she recalls her life in the village with other family members and friends before escaping the war-torn land.
Thoughts of home washed over Ziba like the surge of the sea washing over the deck.
Ziba's initial thoughts revolve around happy times - when she played with her village friends, when mother cooked meals for the family, when father told her many tales... You are just starting to feel good with Ziba, when all of a sudden, her thoughts drift to the sad events - when she could no longer go to school and had to stay behind the mud walls. And then, finally when her village was torn apart with violence, the family had to escape the battle-torn land.
Gunfire echoed through the village. Angry voices surrounded her. Clutching her mother’s hand, Ziba ran on and on through the night, far away from the madness until there was only darkness and quiet.
With these horrid recollections, Ziba quickly collects herself in the boat, and cuddles close to her mother. Her mother whispers in her ears, Azadi - meaning freedom. She starts to feel better as she thinks about the future awaiting her, and the smiling faces of new friends she will be meeting in the new land when the journey comes to an end.
Story-telling and illustrations:
What an incredible attempt at story-telling, and that too based on real events! The text does not mention the native land that the refugees come from, but the book jacket describes the author's work and her volunteer role with Afghan refugees in Australia. The theme can very well apply to refugees from any country fleeing for a safer home. Indeed a brave attempt to offer such a heavy-handed story! And even more striking is her attempt to move the scenes from past to present and vice-versa - highly commendable, and certainly unique. Reading the book certainly gave me a feeling of watching a movie - incredibly dramatic, and nothing I have ever seen portrayed so well in a picture book.
The illustrator, Robert Ingpen is an award-winning artist. The illustrations depicting an Afghan home are quite a treat for the eye - the snow-capped mountains in the background of the village that is filled with mud homes. Not to mention, the expressions of people when they are in the village working, their expressions during war and finally, when they are in the boat - feelings of hope and fear so beautifully captured.
The book certainly is a heavy one to read to young kids, but a great way to introduce and educate them on the negative realities of the world in a picture book format, particularly to elementary aged and middle school children. My kindergartener certainly enjoyed Ziba's happy memories - her father reading stories, her mother weaving the loom etc. etc.. The book gave us an opportunity to discuss so many things about children being raised in villages where even the most basic of needs are not met such as lack of running water etc. Ziba had to carry water for her family from a nearby well. She also got to learn that Tandoor is actually a clay oven, and some extra research pointed to the fact that the recipe for Indian bread Naan originally comes from Afghanistan. I can safely say that the international theme of the book is sure to appeal to parents like me, and particularly for readers on Saffron Tree.
I should admit I was not ready to offer my five year old topics of war and violence so early on. I skimmed a few words here and there - words such as gunfires. I am sure this book will be part of our "reading together experience" even long after she outgrows reading picture books (who really outgrows picture books? Not me for sure)
This book will certainly come handy as my daughters get emotionally mature to learn about the unending evils of the world. Certainly,these days, there is an interest and questions from my kindergartener about more deeper topics that revolve around death in particular. As hard as they are for me to give answers to those questions, I don't think I can shelter my daughters on the realities of the world or life in general, for a very long time.
That creaked and moaned as it rose and fell,
The story of Ziba came on a Boat will stay with us for a long time. It is a keepsake, and I am sure it will often come out of our bookshelf and we will be reading the book endlessly, in the years to come.