The Island by Armin Greder
A powerful and affecting picture book about refugees, xenophobia and racism. Ages 10+.
"And they built a great wall all around the island, with watchtowers from which they could search the sea for rafts..."
As it is Refugee Week, I thought I would share one of the most striking books on the subject that I have read in many years. The Island by Armin Greder is not a pleasant picture book, but it is a powerful allegorical tale about racism and xenophobia, and the brutality that they lead to.
A man washes up on the shore of an island and is taken in by the islanders at the suggestion of the fisherman, who knows that to cast him back out to sea would mean his death. But the man is not like the islanders, so they make him live separately in a goat pen. When he comes to town, starving and looking for food, the people worry about what he might do. Soon fear and suspicion overwhelm the islanders, leading them to turn on the man, who has done nothing to provoke them beyond needing their help.
This is not a picture book for very young children, but it would be suitable for use in upper KS2 and above (with a caution - the man is naked in the images) as a stimulus for discussion on how we treat those who seek refuge both today and how they have been treated historically.
The images are stark and brutal, but they reflect the fear and suspicion that refugees around the world face as they seek safety. Throughout the book, the man actually does nothing and appears to be more human in features than the islanders, who by contrast are drawn as monstrous and unhinged creatures - appearing exactly how they describe the man at times. It raises important questions about where these fears and rumours about refugees come from and how important it is to question those who raise suspicions about people who have been displaced.