Thursday 15 September 2016

Book review : Here I Stand : Stories That Speak Of Freedom (Amnesty International)

Here I Stand : Stories That Speak Of Freedom is an anthology of texts that have been put together by Amnesty International to explore the rights and freedoms that we enjoy in the 21st century and those for which we still need to fight. When I was a teenager back in the eighties and nineties, it seemed like there were so many milestones for human rights victories being reached - the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Berlin Wall coming down, the end of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the AIDS information campaign which slowly started changing the way the gay community was viewed and busted a lot of urban myths and ignorance along the way, Live Aid trying to help the victims of famine in Ethiopia, glasnost and perestroika in Russia, the events in Tienanmen Square in China shocking the world, the overthrowing of Ceaușescu in Romania ... When I speak to my own children about these events and the way the world operated before them, they often find it hard to believe that these things actually happened, let alone in my own lifetime. Similarly, when we study Martin Luther King at school, and the racial segregation that was not only widespread but perfectly legal in the USA just 50-odd years ago, the pupils look at me like I'm making it up, totally incapable of believing that these things happened such a short time ago.

We have certainly come a long way - but, as this book highlights, there are still battles that need to be fought. As the recent surge in hate crimes shows, there are still prejudices and discrimination out there, and undercover documentaries frequently reveal harrowing abuse and suffering going on, both abroad and on British soil. The stories in this book manage to evoke difficult and frequently taboo subjects - topics that need to be voiced so that they can be understood and hopefully prevented - in a child-friendly way that can be explored in the classroom or at home. A book dealing with such delicate topics such as female genital mutilation, sexual abuse, child trafficking and homophobic bullying is not something that I would instantly think of giving to my tween and teen daughters, but the stories are written in such a touching and un-shocking way that I think this is a book that all teens should read. 

Most of the texts are short stories, but there are also a couple of poems and even a comic strip about the Suffragettes. It is amazing to see how poignant and thought-provoking they can be in just a few pages - it may only take a few minutes to read each of the narratives but the characters and events will stay with you for a very long time. All of the stories are life-affirming and positive and they all touch upon the importance of having the courage to speak up against injustice - a valuable life lesson for all of us, whatever our age.

The collection brings together 25 leading writers and illustrators, including John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, poet Jackie Kay, Costa-winners Frances Hardinge and Christie Watson, Carnegie 2016 winner Sarah Crossan, Matt Haig, Neil Gaiman, AL Kennedy and imprisoned Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The writers show how precious and fragile freedoms are, and the need to defend them constantly. Many write from direct knowledge. Jackie Kay wrote her poems after talking to refugees in Scotland. Elizabeth Laird’s tale of child trafficking was a result of meeting young Pakistani boys trafficked in the UAE. Before writing Redemption, Ryan Gattis sat down with a man on death row. Christie Watson witnessed the effects of FGM, the subject of The Importance of Screams, during her time as a NHS nurse. While Neil Gaiman wrote I Believe... in response to the Paris terror attacks, and Bali Rai wrote The Colour of Humanity because of the tragic death of Liverpool teenager Anthony Walker in 2005, at the hands of racists.

I really enjoyed reading it for myself, but I can also see its value both as a parent and a teacher, so I was delighted to see that Amnesty have also created some free teacher's notes with ideas for further discussion or classwork.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £10.99

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (4 Aug. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140635838X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1406358384
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 3 x 20.4 cm

  • Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

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