Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia by Gattaldo (Otter-Barry, 2020)
When a picture book is published these days I'm always delighted, but it's only a very few that really enter my heart. Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia is one of these: it coruscates in the way it tells this true story. At once there is a deep, strongly-felt passion for the woman that shines out brightly from the forest of other stories about the individual's lone voice, their persistence, their self-belief against adversity; there is also - not overtly, but still there below the surface - the roaring anger about how something so good and so beautiful could be taken from us.
Daphne was a journalist. She fought against injustice and lies. Her real-life story here told in pictures and words focuses on what we can all learn from her example: how our childhood dreams can be fulfilled, the intense place reading can carve out in our imaginations and hearts, the need to think and to ask questions. As Daphne grows up, still her example shines through to us: work hard, love each other, keep fighting the good fight.
Pictures throughout the book depict a hazy balance between the real world and Daphne's extraordinary, vibrant imagination. Some pages show exactly what was happening in her life - playing with her children while her smiling husband looks on, for instance. But others turn more surreal: Daphne standing waist-deep in a sea of fish, her pages and pages of written words typed out onto a swirling, almost endless stream of paper, and then that very paper metamorphosing into the snaking necks of a political hydra on the next page. We feel close to Daphne this way, maybe not consciously, but we are seeing the world as she did, stepping from the imaginative, thoughtful world of her creation, into reality, and back again. We're learning what it was like to think and see as Daphne did.
The picturebook story ends with the words, 'Daphne's writing travelled the world and inspired more and more people to speak out. Daphne had persuaded others to continue her work...and make our world a better place' and we can leave it there - the picturebook has done its work to inspire and engage and - most importantly! - to make the young reader think. But then we turn the final page and in an almost painfully brilliant flash we step out of the picturebook and into the reality of our heroine's story.
Words tell us that Daphne was murdered, her story was cut short.
But pictures tell us something else too, something that is Daphne's real legacy. We see Daphne smiling out at us from sharply coloured photographs, the soft pastel images of the rest of the book thrown into stark relief. Here is Daphne at the zoo with her three children, her mother, her sisters; calling out to us here - on the same page as the words that reveal the horrible truth - is family, connections, love.
There is also a letter from the author who, having shaped words and crafted pictures so carefully and thoughtfully to get across these deep truths about his beloved friend, has the final word. For him, Daphne was a gift, listening and talking to her was a gift, being part of and writing her story was a gift. Now he shows us that, for us, this book is the same kind of thing.
Become friends with the book, listen to the truth of its messages, hold this story in your hands and heart.
Daphne would be so proud.
Fearless: The Story of Daphne Caruana Galizia is published by Otter-Barry on October 8th 2020
With thanks to Gattaldo for his support in the preparation of this blog and for supplying the pictures. lllustrations by Gattaldo. Author photo by Antonella Muscat.