It’s hard to read ‘Refuge’ right now and yet, I think, this is perhaps one of the most vital books I’ve read this year. As I’ve watched the news over the past few days, weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware that there are moments in the world which cannot be expressed, somehow. There are times when the wordless horrors become formed, take flesh, when all it should be is nothing. Nothing.
And yet, there are somethings. All around us. Awfully so. Unfathomably so.
I think that literature does help us, sometimes, in starting to figure out where we are in the world. What we place ourselves against. What we lay the shape of our lives upon and see the gaps and the points where we connect with others. I think it’s vital for children who may not have the skills or abilities yet to verbalise how they feel. I think it’s equally vital for adults who don’t know how to even begin to rationalise some of the events in the world. Say something. Talk. But how to talk when you don’t even know where to begin?
I’ve spoken before about the great, fine grace of Anne Booth’s writing, her sympathetic and genuine tones. ‘Refuge’ is her retelling of the nativity story, but done with such a wide resonance that I ache at some of the layers in her text. It’s a slim, potent book full of nuance. Picture books are the strangest form of alchemy when they work well and this is such gold.
Illustrated throughout by Sam Usher’s warm and subtle work, ‘Refuge’ has some moments of utter perfection. Nosy Crow have a preview of the book here which shows some of his work. His endpapers are a delight to me; that blush-rich use of colour and light. That note of gold, that rich, evocative tone, is continued throughout the book and provides a note of visual continuity. It also contributes to some of the more stunning moments – the ‘entry into Egypt’ spread is just breathtaking.
I received a copy of this from Nosy Crow directly. It’s a book that many of those involved in have given their time for free. £5 from each copy goes straight towards War Child to help care for displace children. I have donated the cover price to War Child.
There’s a section in ‘Refuge’ I want to end with:
And we passed the shepherds in the fields,
and there were whispered blessings,
and the movement of sheep in the darkness,
and the clasp of rough hands,
and the love of warm hearts
That’s it, I think, right there in those lines. That echo, that note, that’s it.