MTYT: Illegal

By Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney, Wayne State University and Deanna Day-Wiff, Washington State University

In the forth installment of November’s MTYT, Dr. Kathleen Crawford-McKinney and Deanna Day-Wiff talk about the picturebook Illegal, written by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. November’s theme is Global Perspectives on the Refugee and Immigrant Experience. This book portrays the struggle of a young boy who is searching for his brother and sister as he journeys from Africa to Europe.

My Take Your Take: Illegal

Deanna: Dark blue illustrations greet readers, noting the danger refugees are willing to take for a better life. A small crowded inflatable rubber dinghy is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with choppy waves, freezing temperatures and no life jackets. This graphic novel describes the harrowing journey of 12-year-old Ebo who is looking for his brother and sister by trying to get to Europe.

The second chapter, in a completely different color scheme of browns, tans and reds, flashes back to Ghana, Africa, where Ebo lives with his alcoholic uncle. This back and forth between the present and the past keeps readers turning the pages.

By chapter four the refugees in the dinghy realize the smugglers did not provide enough fuel, shelter or a compass. They paddle by hand and worry about the endless ocean. Then the book flashes to Ebo’s scorching walk across the Sahara Desert where he runs out of water and has to drink liquid from his own body to survive.

This powerfully moving book depicts the perseverance of thousands of immigrants searching for a new beginning. The back matter includes a map, notes, a refugee woman’s story, acknowledgments and sketchbook.

As a way to discuss books in literature circles, pre-service teachers created digital responses to immigration novels. One small group read and discussed Illegal and these are two multi-modal responses. Students were encouraged to use images, colors and quotes in their visual responses.

Kathleen: What an incredibly difficult situation Ebo and his brother Kwami encounter throughout their journey to escape their home country and reach Europe in hopes to find their sister and find a safe place to start a new life. I agree with you, Deanna, that the book demonstrates perseverance by these characters. What was the context for the multimodal responses from your preservice teachers?

What I find most interesting is the inspiration the authors had to write this story came from a newspaper article about a boat sinking in the Mediterranean where over 200 people were on board. This graphic novel honors the many refugees who struggle to find better lives for themselves and their families. Although this book is fiction, it is true to life because they wove true to life stories from many people who had similar journeys as those depicted in this graphic novel. I also appreciate how the authors addressed the notion of people being “illegal.” They start the book with a quote from a Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel who states:

You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?

When working with students I would make sure this quote was brought to life after completing the book to unpack what the connection to this story on an emotional level. Might this theme bring out empathy for what immigrants and refugees encounter to aspire for a better life? Knowing what the refugees encounter, I have hope that these books, in the hands of our youth, might lead them to take action and make a difference on humanity.

Title: Illegal
Author: Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Illustrator: Giovanni Rigano
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN: 9781492665823
Publisher Date: August 7, 2018

The first and second and third issues for November can be found on our site. Check back next month to see what books we’ve selected and to follow the conversation!

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