Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 23 Sep 2020

You Belong by Anna Gurevitch

It is always a challenge for authors and illustrators to convey the complexities around the idea of migration and identity. This little book, with its quirky and very colourful illustrations, succeeds in getting the message across that society continues to be enriched by diverse backgrounds. Anna Gurevitch explains that she was inspired by interesting stories from her own multicultural family background with roots in Italy, Belarus, Latvia, Ireland and India.

The story begins with two children facing out to the reader. I liked their extraordinary hairstyles, toothy smiles and asymmetric eyes which immediately convey a slightly unconventional but exciting atmosphere. Taz and Pat want to know all about their grandparents and where they come from. The theme of celebration, singing and feasting is repeated and reinforced as each grand- parent character is introduced in an upbeat way:

‘Grandad Hyman comes from a land where people sing and days are long and work is hard but holidays are fun and feasts are yum.’

But it is also important to know something of each back story because the children are curious to know why an individual had chosen to leave home travel to live in a new country. The reasons for each journey are varied and include war, oppression, natural disaster and work.  After finding out about the different origins of their four grand-parents, the children ask ‘Which is my land and, where do I belong?’

 What follows is a distilled but strong affirmation of all children’s rights to belong and to fully participate in all areas of life.

The vivid illustrations are inspired by the styles of several multi-ethnic migrant artists and saturate each page with the minimal text embedded in each picture. I like the way that these work together to tell the story in the best picture book tradition. Despite some of the darker reasons for migration that are portrayed starkly, the overall atmosphere of the book is one of fun and the importance of imagination.

I think that it could inspire some very interesting classroom discussion about family history, other countries, reasons for migration and human rights. The fascinating information from the author/ illustrator at the back of the book includes family photographs that relate to the characters described in the book.  It would also be a starting point for reflecting on how different families celebrate and spend time together. 

Strongly recommended.  

Karen Argent

September 2020