Illustrated by Rachael Dean
For ages 4+
You'd be forgiven for thinking that I chose this book for today's KS1 book club in light of the deeply concerning escalating migrant and humanitarian crisis unfolding here in my area of Kent. In fact this is a book I've been looking forward to sharing with you for some time. It's actually out today, but I've had it on my review list for months. Rachael Dean is one of our young British superstars of children's illustration, always creating vibrant and engaging artwork with a level of thoughtfulness and detail doesn't fail to enhance the reading experience. It was the subject matter paired with these gorgeous colourful illustrations that hooked me and it's a pleasure to get to know more author Kathryn White as a result.
With my group of book club children being aged 5 or 6 years old, I wasn't sure whether the length of this mightn't be a bit too much for them so early in the morning before school starts, especially as clocks have just changed, it's awfully stormy and dark, they can be quite fidgety, and I wanted to ensure that such an important story would be justly shared in a way that the children would feel able to engage and respond within the session, feel compassion, share their own thoughts and feelings. After a brief overview of the meaning of the words 'migration' and 'refugee' and asking for hands as to why people might need to leave their homeland, we got stuck in.
The story begins with a little girl of a similar age to our book clubbers, Jess and her mum walking past a shop on a chilly, blustery day, and spotting a woman asleep in a doorway. She's in a sleeping bag, wears a head-covering and has very few possessions beside her. Jess is curious. Her mum smiles at the woman each time they walk past.
Eventually they strike up a conversation with the woman, whose name is Grace. Along with her necessities and a small tin of memories from her homeland, she has a cat called Luna. Grace shares her story with Jess and her mum. At this point in the story one of the children told me that this had happened to them. When the children come to me I rarely know any of their family history or home life information unless necessary, so I was caught a little off guard and sad to know this. The child told me that they had been like this, very poor with hardly anything. I took a moment to thank them for their courage to share this with the group.
The illustrations accompanying Grace's words tell the reader so much more about her journey from her homeland of Eritrea in northeast Africa, fleeing war, taking a small boat across the sea, entering a refugee centre, sadly losing contact with her twin sister and parents, then ending up frightened all alone in a camp, and finally carrying everything she owns in the world on her back and in her arms walks through the countryside to end up in Jess's town.
By showing what is inside her 'special things' tin Grace can relate her story to Jess. Using a stone from the beach where her small boat landed she asks Jess to close her eyes and smell the salty, sea air. At this point in the story I paused and brought out a post of stones I had collected over the years from our local beaches with my own children. They still have a faint salty seaweed smell. Each child took a stone and we all closed our eyes while we thought about Grace landing on the beach.
Grace also has a pouch of Gerbera Daisy seeds (the national flower of Eritrea) her own mother gave her to plant from one homeland to another, and she gives Jess one to sow at home.
Winter sets in, Christmas lights and decorations are on display in the shop windows, snow starts to fall, and Grace has disappeared from the shop doorway, never to return. After some time, and lots of worrying, Jess receives a surprise letter and a home made paper garland, it's from Grace... she's warm, safe and well, and so is Luna.
There are a handful of incredibly wonderful picture books for children about refugees and migration and this is a welcome new addition. 'Home for Grace' is filled with empathy and compassion building moments and through Jess's character children are able to work through their confusion, curiosity and worry they may have experienced when seeing homeless people, hear adults talking about the current migrant crisis, or see stories about refugees in the media.
As mentioned previously, I used beach stones during the story. After the story finished I handed out a couple of colouring activities with little intros to ask them to be mindful of Grace's story while they are choosing their colours and colouring in their sheets. I hope you and your book club enjoy them. I found the colouring sheets from https://iheartcraftythings.com and incorporated them into my worksheets.
Download my FREE activity sheets for your own book club
Gerbera Daisy colouring mindfulness activity sheet
Butterfly colouring mindfulness activity sheet
About the creators
Kathryn White (author)
Kathryn White grew up in the Midlands and her first picture book was selected as a Notable Book for Social Studies by the USA Libraries Association. She has since written more than thirty books for children of all ages, and has been shortlisted for numerous awards for her writing, both in the UK and the US. She has held events at festivals including the Edinburgh and Cheltenham book festivals. Kathryn has travelled widely, teaching across the world in China, the USA, and beyond.
Rachael Dean (illustrator)
Rachael Dean studied Graphic Design and Illustration at Liverpool John Moore’s University, and graduated in 2017 with a First Class Honours degree. Rachael works traditionally painting images which are vividly rich and bold. Her illustrating passion lies in the outdoors and travelling. Rachael illustrates for publishers around the world, and for In The Moment Magazine, Outside Magazine and Ma Vie Magazine. She lives on the coast near Liverpool, UK.
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Publication date: 3 November 2022
*My review copy was kindly sent to me by the publisher.
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