In terms of process, how are the images created?

‘The images are all constructed digitally. I make marks on paper in the planning and, yes, I have experience of printmaking – screen printing and lithography. But the process now is digital. I work out the overall colour structure from the start.’

At the time of our conversation, Sanna was working on a new project, taking the research element of her work further through a collaborative project in the form of a research fellowship with a well-known British university, developing a follow-up to The Journey. The research looks at the concept of integration and ‘acceptance’. Sanna has taken this research into schools and made contact with immigrant children in different cultures. She has also delved into the historical context of the subject. This work takes the picturebook to a new level of social and political relevance. Does she see herself as a picturebook-maker who will always make work that has a political edge?

A conversation with Francesca Sanna

The Journey is a masterclass in the mechanics of picturebook- making. Just as rhythm, meter and patterns of regular and irregular ‘pulses’ lead us, often invisibly, through a poem, the visual cadence of Sanna’s sequence of images is meticulously crafted to maximize our engagement with the trauma of the family’s experience. The overall left-to-right direction of the journey is punctuated by meetings with right-to-left obstacles and hazards. Rich combinations of complementary colour are used with great skill. Visual metaphor abounds but is used subtly to represent the incipient arrival of war or the flight to freedom. Sanna also explains that the book contains many personal motifs and references – her mother, the library, her cat, flamingos from Sardinia. Like many picturebook-makers, she has the opportunity to work with children in schools and says that she is delighted to see how the children ‘get’ the metaphor of the bird.

‘Yes to being a picturebook-maker. I see myself as a sequential narrative thinker. No to always making work that is political. It can be too ‘heavy’ and I am scared of making mistakes. There is a weight of responsibility. But it is a positive thing to open up discussion about these things with children. And I love to express ideas in a personal way, from personal experience. But I need to become a better businessperson!’

The huge international success of The Journey has helped to open the door for makers and publishers to address some of the most important issues of our time through the medium of the picturebook.

Children’s Picturebooks Second Edition: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, Laurence King Publishing, 978-1786275738, £29.99 pbk.

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