Anisa’s Alphabet

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Mike Dumbleton (text) and Hannah Sommerville (illustrator), Anisa’s Alphabet, Midnight Sun Publishing, March 2020, 32 pp., RRP $29.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781925227574 

I believe there is a place for picture books that reflect the grimmer side of life. However much we’d like it to be otherwise, children’s lives are not all sunshine and puppy dogs, and we need some children’s books need to reflect that.

The back cover’s blurb says: For many refugees the alphabet represents the start of a new language and a new future, but Anisa’s alphabet is different.

At its most basic, this is an alphabet book. Written as a poem, each line is dedicated to a particular letter of the alphabet. But this impressive book is also much more than that. Each letter unlocks a part of Anisa Alidurahn’s life; particularly exploring her experience as a refugee.

K is for kiss, as mum holds me tight.

L is for leaving, late at night.

In few words, Mike Dumbleton (of Cat fame) describes the young girl fleeing her unspecified homeland with her family when fighting breaks out, travelling in fear to a refugee camp, sailing through storms in a rickety boat, to ultimately arrive in a new country…and another refugee camp. Will she be welcomed? Will she be returned? We do not find out, but we share Anisa’s uplifting dream for a happy future.

The understated text tells the poignant story beautifully. The watercolour illustrations, predominantly in subdued tones of blues and greys, succeed in making the reader feel a little claustrophobic and trapped too. Yet the illustrator also provides occasional relief for the reader through the contrast of Anisa’s sunny-coloured drawings, reflecting her hopes and dreams for a happier future.

This book could well be used to facilitate conversations about issues relating to refugees, and the role Australia takes in welcoming them, or not.

Part proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Australian Refugee Association.

Reviewed by Julie Murphy

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