Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna
Purchased with grant funding for my library
Me and My Fear is the companion to The Journey, Sanna's powerful picture book story of a family of refugees, led by a widowed mother, and their flight from a war torn country. However, this new book can be read on its own and appreciated, whether you've read The Journey or not. And, while the main characters of Me and My Fear is a refugee, adapting to a new country, new language, and new school, her experiences are universal and Sanna conveys them masterfully through her  personification of fear itself, her words and pictures making the space for readers to experience connection and empathy.

At first, Fear is a "tiny friend," who has always kept the narrator safe. These words at the start of the book are accompanied by an image of the narrator peering over the edge of a balcony, high above the treetops. Fear, the size of a small backpack, clings to her back, reminding her to be safe. I love that Sanna starts her book showing readers that fear is appropriate and it has a time and a place. With a page turn, the narrator tells us that, "since we came to this new country, Fear isn't so little anymore. She keeps growing and growing." The narrator wants to discover her new neighborhood, but Fear won't let her. And Fear doesn't want her to go to school, growing angry when the teacher says her name wrong. And at break, Fear keeps the narrator off on her own, alone. As Sanna's story unfolds, the illustrations show the narrator and her Fear - sometimes she seems comforted by it, sometimes frustrated, sometimes sad. But, Fear also keeps her from sleeping (man, do I know that feeling) dreaming "so loudly that I can't sleep." Eventually, Fear begins to shape the narrators thoughts as well as actions. Fear tells her that she is lonely because no one likes her. Just when it seems that she might totally isolate herself, the narrator gets a note from a boy in class, one who can be seen on previous pages trying to communicate and connect with her without success. The two connect through drawings, and soon with play, Fear getting smaller and smaller, until a barking dog shows her that her new friend also has a secret fear, just like the narrator. A two page spread shows the children, their fears visible, wordless understanding clear.

Sanna ends her book with the friends and their fears and these words and a final, marvelous accompanying illustration;

It's still not easy to understand everything, but I've started to notice that everyone else has a fear, too . . .and sometimes we all play together!

And, in one last wonderful detail that must not be missed: the endpapers. The front papers might not make sense until you've read the book cover to cover. A close look will show that front papers are the children's fears at play and so big that you can't see where they begin and end. By the final papers, the fears are smaller - less frightening - and you can see them all (in the exact same sport doing the exact same things) playing together.

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