A chat with illustrator & storyteller Francesca Sanna

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Francesca Sanna is an Italian Freelance illustrator and storyteller based in Switzerland. Last year, she released The Journey with Flying Eye Books, collaging together a a collection of real-life stories to tell the story of a family who, after losing everything in a dark war, say goodbye to everything they know and look to find a safer place to call home. The Journey my favourite picture book of 2016 and, in fact, one of my favourite books of all time, so I was very happy when Francesca agreed to come over to the blog for a chat about bringing her beautiful book to life...

The Journey is based on a number of real life experiences of people you interviewed. Can you tell me how the idea for interviewing people came to you and why you wanted to research immigration in the first place?

I moved from Italy to Switzerland for my studies almost four years ago. I had the feeling that in Italy the discussion around the topic of immigration started earlier than in other parts of Europe – probably because of geographical reasons. When I arrived in Switzerland, I saw how the same arguments and considerations that I had heard before in my home country started spreading around the news. This time it was slightly different for me because I was myself an "immigrant", even if a privileged one. So I started doing some research around this theme of "immigration" as wide and open as it sounds. This is how I ended up in some refugees centres. The idea of interviewing people came because I knew nothing about the real stories behind the people we label as "migrants" or "refugees", I was reading a lot of official documents and testimonies but at one point I just asked myself why I was not going directly to the people that experienced these stories.

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Is there a specific story from the interviews that has stuck with you?

Yes, there are a few. I think that especially some of the details are impossible to forget. Like the story of a girl I met at the end of the interview process. We had the same age, and she told me that before she had to flee her home country she was studying to become a flight attendants (this is also why she spoke perfectly English). She said she loved to fly and she made a joke about how much easier it would have been to fly directly to a new country. Instead, she had to travel for months hidden in a car, or walking through the forests. This sentence "I love to fly" stayed with me and it was in my head especially when I was finishing the book

How did the idea of turning these real stories into a book come to you?

I was doing a Masters in Illustration, and to make a book was my goal from the beginning. I don't think there was a moment when I decided "it is going to be a children's book", it just came together naturally.

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When did Flying Eye Books get on board and what were they like to work with?

I sent my project to Flying Eye Books and when they wrote me back I could not believe it. We worked together for a couple of months and everything went very smoothly, it was definitely a great experience.

Can you tell me a little about how you created the artworks in the book?

I always start with a very ugly sketch and I try to make the composition of the page work. Then I move to the computer and painting digitally and using some self made textures and some collage I make the final illustrations. My process is always a little messy, so I try to give myself some rules from the beginning, such as deciding the colour palette and its variation through the book.

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Have you always been creative? Do you remember any of the first things you made?

When I was a child, less than six years old, I went to a "painting class". The teacher was a painter from my home city, a family friend, and recently she gave me what I think is the first book I have ever made. It is a 4 cm wide picture book, bound with paper tape, there are no words in it (I am quite sure I was not able to write back then) and the story, as I understand, is the story of two bears that live in a house with bear-ears.

Have you always been a storyteller and reader? What was your favourite book growing up and what is it now?

I was, as we say in Italian, a book eater. I devoured books. So this is a very difficult question. I think I had two favourite books as child, one was "Dog" by Daniel Pennac, and the other was a book by an Italian author, Bianca Pitzorno, called "Ascolta il mio cuore". I was eight years old when I first read Harry Potter and this was a very important book for me, not only because I grew up with it, but also because it was the first book I have ever read in English. One of my favourite now is the "Our Ancestors" trilogy by Italo Calvino

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In The Journey, there is of course a lot of travelling. If you could take an all-expense-paid trip anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Another very difficult question. I love to travel, and I have a long wish list for future travelling. One of the trips I would love to make is to visit all my friends that live abroad.

Finally, what message would you like readers to take away from The Journey?

I am not a big fan of books that give solutions (and in this case a "solution" has still to be found), so I would like the message to be more a question (or a lot of questions). This is what I love when I see children reading this book - all the questions they have and all the connections they make. The "message" I still have in my head when I think about the process behind The Journey is: what if this happened to me and my family?

Thanks Francesca!

You can order a copy of The Journey here and see more of Francesca's work at francescasanna.com.