CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 12. . . .November 23, 2012.
Although The Stamp Collector is in the form of a picture book, it is not a work for preschoolers. The powerful subject is one of the importance of political and intellectual freedom. The metaphor for the heavy message is a simple postage stamp.
The first stamp is found on a discarded envelope, and it is saved for its beauty. The finder, a city boy, dreams of the significance of the stamp’s story.
At the same time a country boy is reading, dreaming and writing down his stories.
The writer, now a man, is imprisoned and finds himself being guarded by the stamp-finder who is a prison employee. A letter from a supporter of the writer comes. The letter cannot be delivered to the writer and is filed, but the guard saves the stamp. There is an outpouring of letters, of messages hidden away and stamps carefully examined.
As the prisoner becomes weaker due to neglect, the guard becomes more mindful of the wrongness of the situation. He reads the letters, and although at first he does not give the writer the texts, he gives him the stamps, one by one, every stamp “telling a story without words”. Finally the guard passes on the letters, aware that he is putting his own position in danger but exchanging the letters for the writer’s stories. When the prisoner dies, the guard feels he must take up the cause of freedom of expression. He leaves his post and
The Stamp Collector was inspired by the experiences of two real Chinese writers, one of whom is still in jail; and by the efforts of PEN International to help writers who are prisoners of conscience.
Jennifer Lanthier, an Ontarian, has been writing for children since 2007. François Thisdale is a prolific graphic artist and book illustrator who “blends digital imagery with traditional mediums”. His pictures here are a rivetting combination of realism and imagination.
The Stamp Collector is a must-buy for school and public libraries, and particularly for intermediate grade classroom teachers who are looking for a discussion starter.
Ellen Heaney is Head, Children’s Services at the New Westminster Public Library, New Westminster, BC.
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