I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Armin Greder, what I do know I found online five minutes before I started writing this. What I do know is The Island is probably the most important picture book to be released in recent times. Greder migrated to Australia from Switzerland back in 1971. He made a life as a graphic designer which he would later go on to teach along with illustration. His work has brought him great acclaim, being awarded the Bologna Ragazzi Award as well as being nominated for the Hands Christian Andersen Prize, after reading The Island I can see why.
‘One morning, the people of the island found a man on the beach, where fate and ocean currents had washed his raft ashore. When he saw them coming, he stood up.’
My friend Alex passed me this book today and told me to read it, she also told me to emotionally prepare myself. I took the book over to my desk, sat down and did as she instructed. This was about twelve hours ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this story since.
The Island tells the tale of a man who is washed ashore on a poorly made raft. We’re told he was different to the people of the island, this causes the people to fear and reject him. I’m being too kind here, they don’t simply just reject him, they take his voice away, treat him as an animal and eventually condemn him to a fate we can only too easily imagine.
Greder’s book addresses an incredible amount of issues, from xenophobia, racism and human rights, to name a few. It is a heart-wrenching story which gets up to an inch from your face and screams!
The Island isn’t a story, The Island is a mirror, it forces us all to see the truth about the atrocities we allow to happen to each other. Of course we will say we do not condone or support actions such as the mistreatment of others based from some twisted definition of ‘different’, but claiming your moral stance simply isn’t good enough. Greder is telling us, begging us to not just make these declarations, but to stand up, take action and rid the world of this ultimate wickedness. Greder is asking us to come together, to treat each other as one and I for one do not think this is too much to ask, in fact, I can’t think of anything more natural, anything more perfect, more beautiful than this.
There is so much depth to this picture book! From the hauntingly memorable charcoal illustrations Greder is able to speak a thousand words. His depiction of the washed up man as naked, slender and hairless contrasts dramatically to the full-bodied, clothed people of the island. I think it’s clear what Greder was trying to convey through his choices to illustrate his characters as such, wealth, culture and history all playing their part in the construction of attitudes towards difference. I keep asking myself if there was a reason for why the washed up man is depicted as fair-skinned. I haven’t come up with an answer to this which I’m completely happy with yet, but I suppose this choice proposes the idea that hatred is evolving. Read into that what you will.
I want you to think for a second. Do you know at least one person who holds some kind of prejudice toward someone, or toward a group of people stemming from something irrational? This possibly coming from an insecurity, a fear, or maybe from concern of their own well-being is then hostile to those different than them? I did this today and I’m ashamed to say I can name several people in my life who are like this. I want to show them this book, I want to take them to The Island because Greder has created something so powerful I truly believe it can open the eyes of those blinded by their own hate.
When I started writing this I claimed this book was probably the most important picture book of recent times. I said this because increasingly in the media there are more and more reports about hostility between people, and more than often it is directed at those suffering from those in places of privilege. For example, in the UK, in some places by some people, there is a searing animosity towards refugees. Well, I was wrong to have said this. This is not probably the most important picture book of recent times. This is one of the most important books to have been released to date, I believe it is timeless, I believe this book can actually help us.
Please go out and buy this book! Buy it for your children, your friends, parents, sisters, brothers, cousins, buy it for strangers! Books have the power to mend minds and hearts, and with the utmost sincerity, hand on my heart, I know they can mend the world too.
BB Rating: This book cannot be rated.
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