How do you talk to war children? The answer comes from the writer Elena Pullèwho in his delightful book “I put peace in my suitcase “ (Mondadori Electa), succeeded through the story of two Ukrainian girls, Olga And Lisa, to explain to the little ones the conflict we are experiencing in this period, which until now they had only experienced with video games. In our interview with the writer, the delicate construction of this book, which starts from the fears that adults have experienced first of all, to arrive at a story with simple words, with the beautiful drawings by Michela Minen, who educates and also opens a glimmer of light.
Talking about war to children is something complicated to make them understand, how did you manage it?
“Using mainly a lexicon for children that left a space for calm and serenity. These two stories were a bit of a need that also helped me to give meaning to the war in Ukraine. This event took me by surprise and scared me, just like a balloon that suddenly bursts would. I couldn’t explain my emotions and define the sense of disorientation with words, so I went back to the simpler ones. I tried to tell what I felt, and to put my emotions in the form of a story ”.
Can something like real war be traumatic for children?
“I have included some ‘ingredients’ that I considered fundamental such as the happy ending. Probably because I needed it too and it also helped me to be less afraid. I wanted to tell these stories, leaving a glimmer of light. The war does not have a lot of it, but I was inspired by the first news reports that spoke of the trip. A sort of border crossing and crossing to arrive at a safer place like our country “.
Who are the protagonists?
“The first story is the story of Olga, a little girl who runs away with her parents and her cat. In the other the protagonist is Lisa, who does not have a mother, her is the director of the orphanage and has many brothers who are other children ”.
Do the girls you speak of, Olga and Lisa, really exist?
“I didn’t want to give a specific personalization, so no real names or stories that actually happened. Being a very delicate subject, I preferred to invent these two fables “.
The war we are talking about, however, is the Ukrainian conflict.
“From a geographical point of view, the movements are precise, with the departure from Kiev and the crossings from the Polish border. The buses, the intervention of the red cross that in the second story brings the children to safety, are things taken from reality “.
In the book, there is the recurring figure of a superhero.
“I wanted to insert a male figure, that of Anathol that Lisa looks with loving eyes like a little sister towards her older brother and sees him as a superhero. I imagined this boy who helps the youngest orphans to shelter from the bombs. The children hug him, who protects them as if he had a cloak. The other superhero is Olga’s father who takes her, the mother and the cat to the border, but then he can’t cross it with them, because he has to go back to fight ”.
There are many themes that she has managed to embrace in these two stories
“There is the theme of travel, crossing and safe landing. But also of her emotion and detachment when telling the moment in which Olga greets her father and-I write-‘he waits for me to come back to take her like a superhero ”.
Did she identify with one of the two girls?
“What I really identified with is trying to describe emotions with colors, which is what Olga does as she runs away from the countryside and wonders what color her ‘feeling’ is. She doesn’t understand why they’re leaving in a hurry, and she wonders about how she feels. Are her emotions orange like the fire they are going through or black like the bird, which I imagined to describe war? Even Lisa, sitting on the bus that is taking her to Italy, wonders if she is sad or happy without understanding it. The same work I did on myself when the war broke out. What was my predominant emotion? The anger, the amazement, the fear, the worry that this thing will touch us closely? ”.
When he put his emotions on paper, did the fear disappear?
“Writing the book I calmed down and without a doubt I rearranged my ideas. Making a little personal suggestion, when Covid broke out in China, I like many others were somewhat naïve, because I never thought that he could get this far. When the war broke out, I was afraid of making the same mistake. Now, even looking at the news, things have changed, but at the beginning it was rampant ”.
In your opinion, children who have the idea of war as a video game, what will they understand from this reading?
“I tried to talk about war by telling a story to those who are not adults, and I invented these in which children are the protagonists themselves. But what happens in their life is that there is a momentary happy ending with the landing in Italy. I also stressed their willingness to return to their country, so even here I didn’t want to talk about uprooting. I gave a preview of the story to a 10-year-old cousin of mine, she was not frightened by the story, but I saw that through reading she ‘touched’ the war, because she told me so. In my opinion it is important not to pass the idea that it is just a kind of fairy tale. Maybe a child does not understand what it means to be hit by a bullet, but the separation from the father is still a pain that he can understand, and that is linked to the conflict “.
A curious thing is that one of the girls, instead of running away carrying a doll, chooses the cat. How come?
“I have a particular sensitivity towards animals and it was great to see cats and dogs being taken away by refugees as part of the family. This thing moved me a lot and I inserted the cat that Olga’s mother puts in the basket before running away, because the size of the animals was not trivial. There have been many articles that have even talked about people who have not left the area in order not to abandon their pets. Even under the subway in Kiev, together with the people, there were cats and dogs hastily taken away just like a member of the family ”.