Ships in the field by Suzanne Gervay

cover image

Ill. by Anna Pignataro. Ford St Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978192665233.
(Ages: 6+) Picture book. Migration. The girl hugs her toy dog, Brownie, as her father twirls them around after coming home from work. Mum watches on rather sadly, but significantly and unusually kisses the little girl on the top of her head. Both parents have come from another country, one destroyed by war, a memory which still haunts the mother. Each parent works at a manual job even though they had better professions in their old country. The little girl longs for a dog. Quietly, the author ties in subtle clues showing what this family has lost in coming to Australia, and when going on a picnic, reveals some of the small slights they endure in settling into a new place, exemplified by the title, the meaning of which becomes clear in the last few pages. A subtle story, overlaid with beautiful water colour images of Australia after World War 2, the small girl and her family stand for the many hundreds of thousands of refugees, displaced people, migrants and asylum seekers who came to our shores at that terrible time in world history. The gentleness of the water colour images belie the nature of war which displaced this family, but closer inspection of these pages reveals the horror and destruction which occurred.
A reminder from the author and illustrator of the nature of Australia's population, Gervay and Pignataro are both children of people who found a safe haven in Australia. This book is a complimentary addition to the library and classroom where books such as The littlest refugee (Ahn Do) and Ziba came on a boat (Liz Lofthouse) are available. With Ships in the field talking about post World War 2, The littlest refugee evoking memories of the boat people after the end of the Vietnam War and Ziba came on a boat revealing what it is like now for people searching for asylum in Australia, any reader will gain further understanding and sympathy for the refugee's flight.
Fran Knight