Why we must promote acceptance to children
Acclaimed author Susanne Gervay’s new children’s picture book,Elephants Have Wings (Ford Street Publishing, H/B $26.95,) is inspired by the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant and promotes the importance of peace and inclusion to younger readers.
Inspired by Susanne’s journey to India and South East Asia, she returned imbued with the cultures of India and Asia and the parable of the blind men and the elephant with its spiritual traditions in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Sufism and modern philosophy. As the child of refugees, Susanne wanted to open a discussion about pathways to peace by creating an illustrative text that gave young people positive ways to navigate a world torn by conflict.
Beautifully illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Elephants Have Wings follows the story of two children, riding on the wings of a mystical white elephant, embark on an extraordinary journey to discover the meaning of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, and the humanity in all of us. Endorsed by the esteemed Blake Society and created by the award-winning picture book team of Susanne Gervay AO and Anna Pignataro, Elephants Have Wings is a remarkable book that promotes peace and understanding to young readers.
Interview with Susanne
I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of young people, sharing my books across the world, in remote indigenous communities, Australian capital cities, throughout regional Australia, across the USA, Asia, India, Kiribati, Europe, from the richest to poorest communities, to young people in prison, hospitals, special schools, remote Outback stations, international schools. The young people I speak to come from many faiths, ethnicities, cultures. However there is a commonality. They seek acceptance, safety, love and are overwhelmed and disempowered by a world in conflict. Story can create a place to unravel their fears and disempowerment and provide pathways to compassion, understanding of other peoples and faiths and become a participant in creating a safer world.
On my tours, a little American boy told me that when he grows up he wants to be an architect. But he will only design short buildings. The Twin Towers of 9-11 are part of who he is now. I included his words which felt so poignant, in my ‘I Am Jack’ series.
I was flown to New York to speak about the power of my young adult novel ‘Butterflies’ to travel with young burns survivors and families. I had the extraordinary privilege to be on the faculty with Kim Phuc, the 9 year old Vietnamese girl running naked from napalm bombs in Nick Ut’s 1972 iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo. With 80% of her body burned, she decided to turn pain into compassion. She is a UNESCO Ambassador for Peace and established the Kim Phuc Foundation for child survivors of war.
Kim Phuc became incorporated into ‘Always Jack’:-
My hero Jack, of the ‘I Am Jack’ books and his friend Christopher whose parents are Vietnamese refugees present their project to the school.
“Jack and Christopher say together. ‘Kim Phuc, the girl running from the bomb, said, ‘Don’t see a little girl crying out in fear and pain. See her as crying out for peace.’” (Chapter 10)
As part of a delegation, an initiative of the Edmund Rice Centre, I travelled to Kiribati with Patrick Dobson, father of Indigenous reconciliation. Kiribati looks like paradise, an island nation of 32 atolls in the Pacific with approximately 100,000 people. However, without sanitation, rising sea levels, inadequate fresh water supplies, one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, it is a multi-faith country struggling for survival. I had the privilege of sharing my books with wonderful teachers, students and communities. I addressed an assembly of hundreds of students under an open canopy. When I announced that I would donate my books to the school, in a spontaneous thanksgiving of song, their voices rose in a powerful celebration of thanks. It was deeply moving.
There have been many special moments of connection through story. I was invited to represent Australia in the international peace anthology by IBBY Korea under the auspices of the United Nations. My story ‘Remember East Timor’ was one of 22 stories, by 22 authors, 22 illustrators from 22 countries with different faiths and cultures. My author visit to the Deaf and Blind School where I read my picture books to children with multiple disabilities and diverse faiths, was significant in sharing the commonality of all children while recognising their difference.
As the child of refugees, ‘Elephants Have Wings’ encompasses the ethos that drives all my writing, engaging with young people as they face the challenges of life and empowering them with compassion, understanding of different faiths, humanism. The extraordinary tree of life that connects all humanity spreads its ways through the pages of ‘Elephants Have Wings’, as the mystical white elephant takes the children across the beauty of the world, its conflict and then safety of home.
‘Elephants Have Wings’ was written for young people and adults to open discussion about what sort of world they want and how they can contribute to it because ‘The elephant is in all of us’.