Letters to a Prisoner

Jacques Goldstyn, trans. from the French by Angela Keenlyside. Owlkids (PGW, dist.), $18.95 (48p) ISBN 978-1-77147-251-7
Explaining Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaigns to a child is no small task. It requires describing oppressive military governments, defining free speech, and recalling the influence that letters have had on the fates of prisoners. In a nearly wordless book, French author-illustrator Goldstyn achieves all of this with a light ink line and a big heart. A man at a political demonstration with his daughter is detained and imprisoned alone; a guard marches around his cell. Initial letters sent to the man are burned, but the wind carries their fragments (“We are with you”; “No te olvidamos”) to all points of the world, calling for help. A wild assortment of characters writes letters urging the prisoner’s release: a cowboy, a circus clown, a construction worker sitting on an I beam. Goldstyn’s sweet-tempered, loopy drawing style takes much of the sting out of the story’s sadness—his humans have big bulbous noses, and small, cheerful animals abound. Yet he isn’t afraid of strong emotion, and many readers will find themselves tearing up. This deserves to be everywhere children are learning about the wider world. Ages 5–up. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/17/2017
Release date: 09/15/2017
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