Crystal Corocher (text) and Margeaux Davis (illustrator), Giovanni, Wombat Books, October 2023, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781761111235
I have often thought about the myriad reasons that make a person leave their country. War, famine, poverty, sense of adventure? In the case of Giovanni’s family, it was a promise of ‘paradise’ and better opportunities. Giovanni’s family leaves their beautiful village near Veneto to come to Australia on a vessel that is not strong enough to endure a long voyage. For about a year, they had to survive on little food, unhygienic conditions and the dangers of the ocean. They not only survived this arduous journey but they lived to tell the tale. The story was passed on from generation to generation to Giovanni’s great granddaughter who is the author of this important, heartwarming, bilingual story.
Bilingual stories need to be a lot more mainstream in Australian publishing since we are a multicultural society. Australian students must be exposed to such stories more regularly in order to have an authentic understanding of the linguistic and cultural diversity that exists in our country. I had fun trying to read the Italian script. I appreciated that the English and Italian script were near each other rather than on different pages. In a way, this way of storytelling captures the experiences of Australians who have connections to other cultures and languages.
In the beginning of the book, we see fields of lemon trees where Giovanni and his brother Pietro are playing hide and seek. The colour and illustrations create a warm idyllic tone all the way to the page of the dinner table where we see the simple and happy family life in an Italian village. This picturesque scene is contrasted over the next few pages with an ominous mood where readers are confronted with sharp lines of the ship, the gloomy body language of passengers and the seemingly never ending grey green of the ocean. This captures the depth of despair Giovanni and his family may have felt on their voyage. The map of the journey is then very cleverly woven into the story which is later tied back to the symbolism of the lemon tree. I particularly appreciated the quirkiness of the illustrations on the inside of the covers.
This is a beautiful and true story of survival, family love, brotherly banter and new beginnings that I would recommend for all Australians 4+.
Reviewed by H I Cosar