[Monday Reading] Of War and Freedom in Picturebooks from Ukraine and the US


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

How War Changed Rondo [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv Translated by Oksana Lushchevska
Published by Enchanted Lion Books (2021)
ISBN: 1592703674 (ISBN13: 9781592703678) Literary Award: Litakcent roku for prose and poetry for children (2015) Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Danko, Fabian, and Zirka are friends who live in Rondo, a town where the “air was uncommonly clear, as if spun from pure light.” It is also a town where flowers sing, and where poetry and art abound.

There is light and joy and beauty and friendship – until for some inexplicable reason, war came to Rondo.

How poignant that picturebooks like this one are now so scarily contemporary. What is even more striking is that this picturebook is created by husband-and-wife author-illustrator from Ukraine (Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv) and translated by Ukrainian writer and translator Oksana Lushchevska.

I loved the magical realism / surreal component to this narrative – the clever visual metaphors, the moving flow of the story and how it remained so starkly and unapologetically authentic even while remaining hopeful and always, always, filled with light. I have read and curated quite a number of picturebooks related to war and conflict, but this will now be one of my top favourites and one that I cannot wait to share in my own teaching and professional development workshops.

Freedom, We Sing [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Amyra Leon Illustrated by Molly Mendoza
Published by Flying Eye Books (2020)
ISBN: 1912497328 (ISBN13: 9781912497324). Literary Award: Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Nominee for Illustrated Books (2021). Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Framed as a conversation between a mother and child, this picturebook has brought the infinity and expansiveness of the universe into a mother’s loving embrace, and the breath that passes into one’s lungs with each inhale and exhale.

It also asks very difficult questions that even I do not know the answer:

I wonder then

What Freedom is

Is it a place?

Is a thought?

Can it be stolen?

Can it be bought?

Does Freedom run through our veins?

Can it be equal and maintained?

Do I have it?

Do I not?

Can it be written?

Can it be taught?

Mother’s words are poignant as she talks about freedom as the right to be. Even as freedom is explored, there is also an acknowledgment of its exact opposite, which once again, becomes even more powerful in light of everything that is happening with the world recently:

Yet, just like the first book depicting war and its darkness, this book also offers blinding rays of light, a radiance that comes from within and earned through years of oppression and injustice.

There is a defiance with the declaration of freedom, even as one reaches for it, seemingly unattainable as it may be.

There is such beauty in the world. These two picturebooks celebrate all that and more.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 21 / 22 out of target 100

March 7, 2022 at 06:31AM Myra Garces-Bacsal