Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay illustrated by Anna Pignataro: book launch #love2read

Ships in the Field, by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, was launched by Lisa Forrest on Friday 17 February at the Hughenden Hotel in Woollahra.

Lisa Forrest

Never having written a picture book before, Gervay was asked by her publisher to to write a novel about ‘finding home’. She decided not to because she wanted to write something which would emotionally engage everyone of all ages including those with English as a second language, while opening discussion about the subject of Australia as an immigrant nation.

Ships in the Field is very personal”, said Gervay. “It’s the story of my family and how they had to leave their home and way of life due to war and human rights violations to find home in a new world”. Through the personal, the book takes on a universal appeal, she says. “This isn’t my story alone; it is the story of so many who have made the journey here.”

The book is easily shared because it touches on experiences we all have in common. “Ships in the Field was written so that children are not alone”, said Gervay. The book may seem deceptively simple but both Gervay and Pignataro explained to us the multi-layered nature of the text and illustrations.

This is a story about the migrant experience, about being a refugee, about making the painful journey from war to hope. Pignataro said that before working on this book, she had been concentrating on illustrations of animal characters — ‘a fairytale world of rabbits’. The book brought her back to her roots and many elements of the story resonated with her. Speaking about her Italian heritage, she told us that her family had been born in and grew up in Egypt but were forced to leave there in the 1950s and go back to Italy. Her parents had barely unpacked their wedding presents;  so sudden was their departure from Egypt.

Anna Pignataro

She describes the family’s life in Australia as ‘a life of hope and a fresh start’. “You’ll see many layers in the pictures — feelings and stories that I remember”, she said. “Their journey and experiences are inside these pictures. My paintings are the heart of their journey;  you’ll see glimpses of sadness, hope, acceptance and joy.” Pignataro used her husband and daughter as models for the pictures. “I feel this story belongs to everybody”, she said.

Gervay’s parents  were  post war Hungarian refugee migrants who came to Australia and the book is dedicated to her three aunts. One has passed away; another was too frail to come but Aunty Margaret was the guest of honour at the event! “Ships in the Field encompasses her story, the story of my aunts and the courageous journeys of so many people to this land. They arrived without language, money, living with the atrocities of the past, starting life working like Anna’s family in factories and raising their children. And they took up Australian citizenship as soon as they could, becoming part of our culture and enriching our lives.”

Gervay, a National Year of Reading Ambassador and Order of Australia recipient, acknowledged some wonderful organisations which promote literacy and social justice including Room to Read, Books in Homes, and the Edmund Rice Centre. She also said very nice things about the importance of librarians.

How lucky we were to have a ‘show and tell’ — Gervay read the book to us as Pignataro displayed the illustrations.

Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro


Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay illustrated by Anna Pignataro ISBN: 978-1-876462-87-1 Ford St Publishing

Find out more about Susanne Gervay at

© Paula Grunseit 2012


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