Inside the CBCA Shortlist
The Mediterranean (Allen & Unwin) is a picture book for mature readers. It is not for reading pleasure. It is deliberately confronting, aiming to shock the reader with the terrible issue of dead refugees.
The quote at the end of the book tells us that the story is based on the sinking of refugee boats in the Mediterranean, with a focus on a small vessel that sank in 1996 with 300 people on board. Local fishermen were catching the bodies in their nets and throwing them back to avoid dealing with the authorities and have their fishing interrupted.
People who are individuals: who love and are loved are shown here as only bodies. They become part of the food chain, eaten by the fish that may later be eaten by humans.
The book is wordless except for the opening text, “After he had finished drowning, his body sank slowly to the bottom where the fish were waiting.”
The illustrations then depict the catching and eating of the fish and the terror caused by soldiers with guns who destroy a village, forcing the occupants to flee. The people board a crowded boat. The final illustration shows it sinking.
The structure is retrospective and cyclic.
The artwork is consummate. It is from the hands of a master. All the illustrations fill vast double-page spreads, executed in charcoal and pastels. A dark palette pervades.
Using the book with students:
The Refugee Experience For further background information, students read an account of a refugee experience.
And then I was a refugee app https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/and-then-i-was-a-refugee/id575017439?mt=8 (Australian Red Cross) could be downloaded. Choose which of two characters to follow when their village is destroyed.
The Mediterranean & Peapod Lullaby Students read the picture book Peapod Lullaby, for young children, as a contrasting portrayal of a refugee experience. The tone is very different from The Mediterranean. Compare the colours, line and layout on the page. Students illustrate an episode from a refugee experience in either the style of Armin Greder or Stephen Michael King.
Read other books by Armin Greder: The Island, The City. Written by Nadia Wheatley – Flight; written by Libby Gleeson – The Great Bear, An Ordinary Day.
Read other CBCA shortlisted books about refugees and the displaced, particularly Between Us and Cicada.
There are many excellent Australian books about refugees. As a starting point, use the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature database on cultural diversity and search under ‘refugees’. https://www.ncacl.org.au/ncacl-cultural-diversity-database/
Food Chain In The Mediterranean, humans are eaten by fish and become part of the food chain. Students discuss where else humans are part of the food chain. [e.g. bodies buried in the earth or cremated and scattered are very likely to provide sustenance for insects, plants and, eventually, the crops and meat that people eat]