jump to navigation

Bookends: Children’s Books Advocating for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Childen's, Margriet Ruurs, Whitehorse Star.
add a comment

Bookends: Children’s Books Advocating for Human Rights and Freedom of Speech

By Dan Davidson

April 5, 2017

– 781 words –

Some children’s books also deserve to have adults pay attention to them. Here are two such books. One deals with the role of writers in an age when some powerful people see them as “enemies of the people”. The other tells a refugee story in an age when some nations are less welcoming than they used to be.



Stamp Collector

The Stamp Collector

Story by Jennifer Lanthier

Illustrations by Francois Thisdale

Fitzhenry & Whiteside

32 pages



The Stamp Collector is about the importance of stories and freedom of speech. It is the story of two boys, A country boy grows up to be a writer, and is imprisoned by the grey men who think his stories are dangerous, The city boy grows up with a love of stamps, in which he sees stories about other places.

Needing to support his family, the city boy grows up to become a prison guard, and ends up working in the prison where the country boy is incarcerated. The state has silenced him, but his story of hope has escaped their clutches and is spreading through the land. As a result of this, people who have read his story keep writing him letters, none of which he is allowed to receive.

The guard, who was the boy who loved stamps, sees the letter file and saves the stamps. For a long time he does not read the letters, but one day, prompted by a dream, he looks at the ones that he can read and realizes who they are for and why.

From that time, he begins giving the stamps, one at a time, to the writer. They do not speak, but the prisoner realizes what this much mean.

Time passes and the writer grows ill. The guard begins to pass him the complete letters, letters asking for another story. Eventually, over many days, the prisoner dictates a new story to the guard, and finishes it before he dies.

The guard tells no one what he has, but decides to leave his country and go to somewhere safe. In a library there, he begins to write a story: this story.

Thisdale’s illustrations are dark and realistic, although still expressive of the moods of the two characters.

This is not an actual story, but it is inspired by many such stories about imprisoned writers. An essay at the end of the book discusses this problem and explains that some of the proceeds from this book go to support PEN Canada. PEN is the acronym for “Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists” and advocates for free speech and for oppressed writers.


Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey

Story by Margriet RuursStepping Stones

Artwork by Nizar Ali Badr

Orca Book Publishers

28 pages



Former Yukoner Margriet Ruurs now lives on Salt Spring Island, where she continues to produce interesting books for children. The process by which this book was created is as interesting as the book itself.

Nizar Ali Badr is an artist from Pakistan who works entirely in stones and pebbles. He creates an image, photographs it, and then generally has to recycle the materials to create his next image.

Ruurs saw his work online and decided she wanted to try to have his images illustrate a book. The arrangements took a while to put together, and she ended up with a selection of images for which she then had to write a story.

Ruurs is used to collaborating with artists and photographers to create books, but the more general practice in publishing is that the story comes first. In this case, Nizar eventually had to create some additional pieces to make the book work.

The story is about a rural Middle Eastern family whose village, oppressed by war and violence, slowly drifts away from them. Eventually it gets to the point where they have to leave too; the bombs are simply falling too close to the house.

Nizar’s wonderfully expressive stone illustrations chronicle their escape on foot, and in small boats. In time, they reach safety.

“On we walked. But now we walked across lands free from war, free from guns and bombs, free from fear. Now we walked in hope.”

Margriet and Nizar are both profiled at the end of the book, and she has provided a list of organizations that deal with the international refugee problem.

As with the first book in this column, a portion of the proceeds are going to resettlement organizations in Canada and elsewhere. Margriet writes to tell me that it has raised $30,000 for refugees as of this writing.