Mohammed’s Journey: A Refugee Diary
Gervelie’s Journey: A Refugee Diary
written by Anthony Robinson and Annemarie Young, illustrated by June Allan
(Frances Lincoln, 2009 and 2008)
The first two books in what is set to become a much sought-after series, Gervelie’s Journey and Mohammed’s Journey tell the true stories, in child refugees’ own words, of how and why children have to leave their home countries and make a new life for themselves somewhere else: in this case, the UK. They both serve as powerful and poignant testimony to the courage and perseverance of young refugees.
Gervelie was born in the Republic of Congo in 1995. When she was two, conflict tore her family apart so that over the next few years she was constantly moving around, living first with her father, then with her mother and step-father (a cruel police-chief who mistreated her), and, finally, with her grandmother on the Ivory Coast. When war also broke out there in 2001, Gervelie and her father fled to Europe. They stayed illegally with cousins before the final stage of their journey to England, using somebody else’s documents. Eventually Gervelie and her father were given a house in Norwich, where they now live.
Mohammed was born into a Kurdish family in Iraq, in 1994. He and his mother fled after the family was beaten up by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers and his father taken away, never to be heard of again. They traveled via Iran to Turkey, from where they were taken by ship to Dover, England, hidden in the back of a lorry with other refugees: a week’s journey with no food and only a little water. Mohammed and his mother stayed in Dover, where they now have their own flat. His mother married again and he now has a younger sister.
Each story ends on a happy note tempered with realism: they cannot forget their past and the family they have lost but both now feel safe; they have friends, love school and have aspirations for the future.
Authors Robinson and Young have succeeded in retaining Gervelie’s and Mohammed’s individual voices. They have also provided a context for their stories, through maps showing their journeys and background to each country. The collage effect of June Allen’s expressive water-colors overlain with photographs provide a potent visual message. Both these accounts read like adventure stories, except that there is no hyperbole: the horrors these children recount have no need for exaggeration. Indeed, the matter-of-fact tone in which they speak about atrocities (for example, Gervelie saying “I don’t like trains – two of my uncles were killed in a train attack”) adds to the power of their narrative.
By focusing on the journey and arrival in the UK, the books help readers realize that the stress, hardship and anxiety these children go through don’t stop at the moment they escape their homeland. Both Gervelie’s Journey and Mohammed’s Journey will be invaluable tools both for refugees who may be seeking mirrors of their own experiences; and for helping to promote understanding among children who welcome refugees into their neighborhoods and schools.
Read my Q&A with illlustrator June Allan and view a Gallery of her work here, from the PaperTigers.org’s archive.
Read a review of another book in the series, Hamzat’s Journey.