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Different ways of seeing
On the road so as not to die, but...

The children’s frontier

 La frontiera dei bambini  DCM-011
02 December 2023

A few years ago, I was given the responsibility of adapting La Frontiera [The Frontier] (2015) -a beautiful book by Alessandro Leogrande on the issue of migration-, so as to rewrite it into an edition usable by schools for children slightly younger than those who were already the book’s intended audience. Leogrande, a writer and journalist, had died prematurely two years after the release of The Frontier. The book is a curious text, somewhere between an essay and reportage that marked a turning point on the discourse on migrations. After publication, it was then difficult to go back, at least literally, given that political decisions appear to be deaf to every cry.

In the little time he had available after publication and before he died, Leogrande travelled extensively to high schools, where The Frontier had been adopted, to read and unravel it. The students welcomed him with questions and curiosity that revealed a need to know more about their peers, those other children, those adolescents who were forced to leave their homes to save their lives.

Some were close, sometimes classmates, but even those who seemed far away suddenly were not, thanks to the warm, strongly empathic writing of those pages. By putting people’s stories and their lives, at the centre (and almost completely disregarding numbers, that is, using them only as the torrential substratum of what happens and in the face of which we cannot pretend nothing is happening, Leogrande humanized the news, made it everyday literature, narratable and alive.  To know where to start with the text was not easy; after all, it was already perfect in and of itself. However, Alessandro's mother and her publisher thought it a shame to deny children their place in a discourse that concerned them. Therefore, armed with humility, I set about re-reading, and my task of rewriting.

Today, The Frontier is read by children dreaming of a world without frontiers, so a separate book you might say, which has made its way and continues to do so. The hypothesis was concrete and turned out to be real; that is, primary or secondary school children are hungry for these stories. They want to know what the rules of travelling are, what happens to those who set out; they want answers to questions they do not always know how to ask: what do you really risk crossing the Mediterranean? Is it normal to do it knowing that the risk is that of dying? Are parents who accompany their children or send them alone reckless, do they not love them enough? What form does love take when it comes to saving someone who cannot choose for himself?

After they have read the book, there are times when teachers call me to answer such questions with the children. I accept, even though I am not as good as Alessandro at pointing out the reasons, or to dig into the substratum of feelings, and the way they change with needs. I try, even though I have not listened to the many stories he had heard, which he recorded and then transcribed. All I can do is trust what I read in his book, and then tried to reproduce in the abridged edition. I look at the faces of the boys, the faces of those who by reading have understood something more about the world, or about themselves, who have focused on how lucky they are to have been born in the right place, despite everything else. Or, rather not in the wrong place, that is, in a part of the world in countries where massacres take place and where no solution can be found to prevent them. I tell myself that I must welcome questions, that the task of a good book is to provoke questions, but that is not true - not always, not in this case. There are times when the questions are chasms of blame and responsibility, and not to feel called upon to answer them is an unforgivable desertion.

Why are children placed on a journey so as not to die, yet sometimes die anyway?

Alessandro Leogrande had the reasons, but not the answers. Yet he never stopped asking the question, shaming us all every time it came up, and fought the shame of silence with his writing.

by Nadia Terranova

The little girl from Moria in Lesbos

There are thousands of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children living on the Greek islands. Many have lost parents, brothers, sisters and friends. They no longer have families and have witnessed unspeakable acts of violence that will probably remain in their eyes forever.  The child in the photo (©VaticanNews) was in the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, an island symbol of the migration tragedy visited twice by Pope Francis. The camp, the largest on the old continent, has grown to accommodate up to 20,000 people. We asked Nadia Terranova to be inspired for a reflection. An Italian writer who alternates between classic novels and children's books. In 2022, she won the Andersen Prize for the best book for 9/12 year old children.