Well known for his sometimes bleak and depressing picture books, Armin Greder does not hold back when dealing with difficult and tragic events. The Mediterranean is a visual telling of the death of a refugee, drowned at sea. The fact that his body is feeding fish, in feeding the generals and lawmakers who encourage these tragedies, is explicitly and deliberately obvious.
With only 17 words, this narrative is told mostly in the visuals. The written text, a matter of fact telling of how, after drowning, a man’s body sinks to the sea bad “where the fish were waiting”. The text is placed to the far right hand side of a white double page spread. The reader turns the page to see the sinking body in Greder’s illustration of lines and ghostly hues. And so the visual narrative continues, featuring the feeding fish that in turn feed the humans, some responsible for the plight of the refugees. The fleeing people, their attackers and their villages are pictured in this sequence of double page, fully illustrated narrative. Dark colours are used, along with direction to impel the reader to continue turning the page, knowing all the while, what waits on the other side is unavoidable destruction and hopelessness.
The book concludes with an afterword by writer and journalist Alessandro Leogrande. The plight of the refugees over the past 20 years in the Mediterranean and the reasons and circumstances for this is examined in a compelling account.
I decided to share this with some of my Year 8 classes. At the end of their reading lesson I sat them down and told them I had a picture book to share with them. After they gathered, the mood shifted from a little restlessness, maybe eagerness to get to morning tea, to a quiet, still audience, all eyes glued to the silent turning of the pages. At the end I asked what the boys thought, their responses were enlightening, confirming in my mind the ability of teenagers to view circumstances through fresh and articulate eyes. Some said it was devastating and moving, one boy said it was “influential, it changes your thinking”. Let’s hope this latter observation rings true with adult readers.
Comprehensive teacher notes by Robyn Sheehan-Bright are available for upper primary and secondary teachers can be downloaded here.
Many thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending me this book for review.