Similar to the book I reviewed yesterday for our Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience theme, The Rabbits, this book by Armin Greder is also recommended to me by Librarian Extraordinaire Benjamin Farr from Tanglin Trust School. And what an awesome recommendation it turned out to be. Like The Rabbits, this picture book is a powerful masterpiece all its own.

Dark and Sordid Fear of Foreigners. At the very core of this book is an overwhelming fear of those who are different. Similar to The Rabbits, the premise of the narrative is quite simple, the storytelling straightforward, the plot crystal clear with a continual build-up that puts a growing lump in the reader’s throat as one witnesses the extent of man’s unfounded rage and the many atrocities people tend to commit in the name of fear.

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.

He wasn’t like them.

One of the things that worked for me in this picture book is how the harrowing portraits complement the range of emotions experienced (or imagined) by the characters in the story. As a psychologist, I am reminded of social psychology principles such as deindividuation and groupthink. The former shows a mob mentality as groups of people lose their individual sense of self-awareness and personal inhibitions as they tend to do things they would normally have not done on their own. Groupthink is quite similar in the sense that there is a tendency to minimize conflict in the group and an overemphasis on harmony (albeit unfounded) and a delusion that everyone feels the same way, thus, alternative courses of action are silenced.

Voice of Reason and Compassion. Thankfully, in this book, there is a voice of compassion in the presence of the fisherman:

The people stared at him. They were puzzled.

Why had he come here? What did he want? What should they do?

One of them suggested it would be best to put the man straight back on his raft and send him away without delay.

‘I am sure he wouldn’t like it here, so far away from his own kind.’

But the fisherman knew the sea.

‘If we send him back, it will be the death of him and I don’t want that on my conscience,’ he said. ‘We have to take him in.’

While it sounds humanitarian, the ‘foreigner’ was never welcomed in the community. In fact, he was treated as an outcast, a pariah that the people would have to tolerate having in their midst. The farther away he is from the people, the safer they feel.

While most of the stories we have featured for our immigrant theme share narratives of assimilation and a renegotiation of one’s identity, this ‘foreigner’ was never given that opportunity to even feel remotely a sense of belonging. The ending was painful and tragic and leaves one with a sense of bated breath and a query in one’s head, “oh dear, that’s it?” Yet, in most cases, the truth is that, oftentimes it is all there is – thus the hate crimes, genocide, senseless murders – the darker shades of humanity as hauntingly portrayed in the illustrations of this powerful book. What happens to the fisherman I leave for you to discover.

This illustration portrays the disturbing manner through which the children adopt the adults’ ways of being – searingly painful.

Teacher Resources. As I was looking for resources for this book, I came across this downloadable pdf link by misslosurdoyr11 which shows full page spreads of the entire book alongside possible discussion questions that may be raised by teachers inside the classroom. This allen and unwin downloadable pdf link, on the other hand, highlight teachers’ reviews of this book and how they used it in class. Teachers who wish to discuss the concept of ‘otherness,’ social justice, racism and refugees, and xenophobia would find this the perfect book to share in class.

Prix Octogone du Livre Jeunesse, Graphic Category – France, 2005; Katholischer Kinder-und Jugendbuchpreis – Germany, 2003; Die Besten Sieben, Focus, Deutschland Radio – Germany, 2002; Eule des Monats, Bulletin Jugend & Literatur – Germany, 2002; Luchs 181, Zeit und Radio Bremen – Germany, 2002

AWB Reading Challenge Update: 66 (35)

PictureBook Challenge Update: 70 of 120

Immigrant Stories Challenge Update: 14 (6)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

16 comments on “The Foreigner in Armin Greder’s “The Island”

  1. This sounds like an interesting book. It is kind of sad, too, though. The illustrations have a lot of emotion.


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  9. I’ve just been lucky enough to interview Armin – I think his work is incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. could you please describe the theme of the book? I’ve been having trouble pin-pointing it.


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