Powerful, thought provoking and shared through the lens of the commonalities we all share rather than the differences, Then and Now by Datsun Tran and published by Slingshot books is a personal story that humanises the refugee experience. This is a unique book, one where the sparse text and evocative illustrations imbued with symbolism, highlight the contrast between “then”, where young children are depicted in their homeland and “now” in a new country, through sensory experiences and reactions to stimuli.

The story compares the children’s reactions and responses to sounds, sights, tastes and smells that trigger very different responses when experienced “then” and “now”. Hope and light radiate in the text as the emotional responses to the stimuli experienced in the children’s new home now elicit a positive and comforting emotional response.

Sepia tones are used to illustrate the past and capture the history of where the children have come from. The emotions etched on the children’s faces convey a gamut of feelings – fear, courage, desperation, sadness, despair, hunger and pain. The use of space on the page serves to highlight the vulnerability of the children. Shades of blue with pops of colour represent “now”. In their new home the children celebrate their culture, honour their ancestors, take comfort in sharing a traditional meal with their neighbours and experience a sense of belonging, abundance, freedom and beauty in their new community.

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