Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, c2012.
I read a lot of picture books in my work. I've found some excellent favourites and love a lot of my discoveries. But I don't often share them here, as my blog is focused on my personal reading, and not so much on children's lit. But. Sometimes something just meshes with my interests and I have to share! This book is one of those titles. It came to my attention because it just won the 2014 Golden Oak award, an award that is aimed at new readers in adult literacy and ESL programs, letting readers choose the winner. (it's another award in the OLA's Forest of Reading.)
The book is focused on the power of story, and the power of letters. Here's the summary from the publisher:
A city boy finds a stamp that unlocks his imagination; a country boy is captivated by stories. When they grow up, the two boys take different paths—one becomes a prison guard, the other works in a factory—but their early childhood passions remain. When the country boy's stories of hope land him in prison, the letters and stamps sent to him from faraway places intrigue the prison guard and a unique friendship begins.This doesn't convey the beauty of the book, though. That prison guard loves stamps, and saves them from all the letters sent to the political prisoner -- even eventually giving the prisoner hope by slipping him a stamp. The two develop a friendship of sorts, and as the prisoner sickens while in captivity, the guard becomes his link to get his new story out into the world. They are together in the end, guard holding the prisoner's hand as he dies.
Yes, that's right, the prisoner dies. And I was weepy! This is a powerful book that would work well with kids 9+ or perhaps Grade 3+. Often we don't think of picture books for older kids but there are so many that are really suited to older readers. This is a great book to read together with someone, and as we can see from its most recent award, it's great adult content in an easier to read format for those learning English, a book that has experience relevant to some newcomers' own.
The illustrations are beautiful, as well, with stamps appearing on nearly every page (in one of my favourites, a stamp appears like a kite). It's done in blues and blacks and greys and browns, very suited to the prison setting, but the stamps are bright jewels among the shades. If you love books about letters, as I do, you will really love this. And if you love books about powerful moral actions and political censorship, you will find this hard-hitting and very moving. An excellent choice to share with other readers.