A Boy and a Ball, by Phil Cummings & Phil Lesnie
Updated: Dec 1, 2020
This book starts gently, showing a young boy kicking a ball with his older brother - but very quickly we realise the boys are in the middle of a war zone, as the sky roars like thunder and buildings crumble to the ground. The older brother grabs his young brother by the arm, urging him to run.
Particularly moving is the image of the father protecting his boys, his body curved around theirs as they huddle indoors; then later, after the dust has settled, the tenderness of the father's hand on the boy's shoulder as they inspect the boys damaged ball.
The boy is promised a new ball, along with a new home – a home with bright skies and soft green grass to play on.
This book takes us on an emotional journey, from a war torn land, across treacherous seas, to a place of ‘fences and gates.’ Here the boy is able to play on soft green grass as his father promised - but when the boy kicks his ball too hard it goes over the fence…and he’s unable to reach it.
Unless he has a little help.
This picture book provides a gentle introduction to the horrors of war, illuminating the sadness and desperation of families fleeing their homes, with hope for a safer place to live. Along the journey we feel hope for the boy and his family…but also fear. Fear that he will not get to see beyond the fences behind which he is confined.
The words are spare and carefully chosen, working beautifully with the illustrations to evoke the fear of a war zone area. The illustrations portray emotion through the evocative use of colour: the night sky is lit up by rocketfire as the father and his boys board the boat, their postures hunched and weary. The people huddled on the boat are bathed in the ominous reddish glow of the rocket fire, as sparks float around them.
Then later, shadows lie long across the ground, as we view the boy playing ball in his new environment though a black wire fence.
This book opens our eyes to the fear and trauma experienced by families fleeing war torn areas as they seek somewhere safe to live, and provides a platform for important conversation with our children about immigration and displacement, and the Australian governments policies on refugees.
The longing for the boy’s damaged ball becomes symbolic, perhaps, of his longing for freedom and safety. It is impossible to fully comprehend the trauma and horror of living in a war zone and being forced to flee your home if you haven’t lived this experience – this book provides a window into this experience. This, of course, is the power of books -the ability to transport one to an entirely different world; to illuminate experiences we may never have imagined possible, to allow us to engage with the characters so that we can form empathy with them.
And so plant the seeds of understanding and activism in our young readers.
An essential book for every home and classroom library.
Published by Scholastic Australia