One Red Shoe
Wilkins Farago, 2014
hbk, 28pp., RRP $A24.95
To the international photo journalist it’s just another call about another attack on a school bus, part of day-to-day life on the Gaza Strip as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians continues …”Strange, how ordinary the message sounded.” Little does he know that it will change his perspective forever. As he runs past children who are so used to violence, carnage and death that they continue their game of hopscotch uninterrupted and play basketball against a backdrop of bombed out buildings, he doesn’t realise how the impact of doing his job – following the victims and the paramedics into the hospital trauma ward to give “the people at home the most accurate information possible” – will change him this time. For this time the victims are children, and one in particular who keeps saying his name over and over … “Maybe children in wartime learned early on to repeat their names even if they are unconscious, so relatives can find them” … and this one touches a nerve. Through his camera lens he sees that the boy is wearing one red basketball boot, the same as he had given his nephew safe at home. But there is only one – where was the other? His nephew loved his pair so surely this boy would too, and hadn’t just lost it. While its whereabouts might not be known, it’s not hard to work out what’s happened to it. Little boys’ legs and grenades are not a good combination.
As he continues to shoot his pictures and the medics continue to fight to save Kenan, something strange happens … something that causes the photographer to make an important phone call and a promise. Suddenly, this conflict just got personal.
This is one of the most powerful picture books I’ve read for some time. Told in a minimalist style, almost like a photo essay would be, the imagery is so striking that the minds connects the dots without the need for superfluous words. Monochromatic with just the splash of the red shoe, their style and perspective, angles and lighting not only reinforce the idea of the narrator seeing the events through a lens but also add to the drama and emotion of what is being experienced. From endpaper to endpaper there is nothing extraneous, but the astute eye will pick up tiny details that offer so much insight into who this man is, his thoughts and emotions.
This is a picture book for older students, right through to the senior years of secondary school. It has so many places in the Australian Curriculum and Ian McLean’s teachers’ notes offer many suggestions that demonstrate how it could be used across all levels from about Year 5 up. An exceptional book that has so much for so many.