How do you talk to children of war? The answer comes from the writer Elena Pullèas in his lovely 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 during this period, which they had hitherto only experienced with video games. In our interview with the author, the delicate construction of this book, which is based on the fear that adults have primarily experienced, to arrive at a story in simple words, with the beautiful drawings by Michela Minen, who educates and opens a flash of light.
Talking about war for children is somewhat complicated to make them understand how you managed it?
“Mainly uses an encyclopedia for children that left a space for peace and quiet. These two stories were a bit of a need, which also helped me make sense of the war in Ukraine. This event surprised me and scared me, like a balloon suddenly bursting. I could not explain my feelings and define the feeling of disorientation with words, so I went back to the simpler ones. I tried to tell what I felt and to put my feelings in the form of a story ”.
Can something like real war be traumatic for children?
“I have included some ‘ingredients’ that I considered basic, such as the happy ending. Probably because I needed it too, and it also helped me get less scared. I wanted to tell these stories and leave a glimpse of “The war does not have much of it, but I was inspired by the first news items that talked about the trip. A kind of border crossing and passage to reach a safer place like our country.”
Who are the main characters?
“The first story is the story of Olga, a little girl who runs away with her parents and her cat. In the other is the main character Lisa, who does not have a mother, hers is the director of the orphanage and has many brothers who are other children ”.
Are the girls you’re talking about, Olga and Lisa, really?
“I did not want to give a specific personalization, so no real names or stories that actually happened. Since I was a very sensitive 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 passengers from the Polish border. The buses, the intervention of the Red Cross, which 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, the one of Anathol, that Lisa looks with loving eyes like a little sister towards her big brother and sees him as a superhero. I imagined this boy helping the youngest orphans to find shelter from the bombs. The children hug him, protecting them as if he had a cloak. The other superhero is Olga’s father, who takes her, her mother and the cat to the border, but then she can not cross it with them, because she has to go back to fight ”.
There are many themes that she has managed to embrace in these two stories
“There’s the theme of travel, crossing and safe landing. But also of the emotions and the detachment when she recounts the moment when Olga greets her father and – I write – ‘wait for me to come back and take her as 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 country and wonders what color her ‘feeling’ is. She does not understand why they are traveling in a hurry, and wonders how she is feeling. Are his feelings orange as the fire they go through or black as the bird that I imagined describing war? Even Lisa, sitting in the bus that takes her to Italy, wonders if she is sad or happy without understanding it. I did the same work on myself when the war broke out. What was my dominant feeling? The anger, the amazement, the fear, the worry that this thing will touch us closely? “.
When he put his feelings on paper, did the fear disappear then?
“When I wrote the book, I calmed down and no doubt rearranged my ideas. With a small personal suggestion when Covid broke out in China, I, like many others, was somehow naive because I never thought it could get this far. When the war broke out, I was afraid of making the same mistake. Now, even when you look at the news, things have changed, but in the beginning it was violent ”.
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, where children themselves are the main characters. But what happens in their lives is that there is an instant happy ending to the landing in Italy. I also stressed their willingness to return to their country, so even here I would not talk about moving up with the mess. I gave a taste of the story of a 10-year-old cousin to me, she was not afraid of the story, but I saw that through reading she ‘touched’ the war because she told me. In my opinion, it’s important not to go past the idea that it’s just some kind of adventure. “Perhaps 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 connected with the conflict.”
One strange thing is that one of the girls, instead of running away with a doll, chooses the cat. Why?
“I have a special sensitivity to animals, and it was great to see cats and dogs taken away by refugees as part of the family. This thing touched me a lot and I stuck the cat that Olga’s mother puts in the basket before I ran 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 so as not to leave their pets. Even during the subway in Kiev, along with the people, cats and dogs were quickly taken away like a family member ”.