Monday, October 12, 2015

The Island by Armin Greder: Developing Understandings (Response due October Monday 26th October)

This hard-hitting picture book, which I bought a few years back, was used to introduce students to the topic of refugees. Students discussed the flight of the lone individual in this book who finds himself washed ashore on an island with hostile inhabitants. It focuses on fear, and mob mentality. Students are currently writing a response to the book focusing on character juxtaposition, the setting, the symbolism, the themes, the illustrations and their thoughts on the story. They all have a PDF file to aid them with this assignment.We looked at the  concepts of prejudice, alienation, judgement, racism, tolerance, xenophobia, and many more, which hopefully students will cross-apply to new learning.'The+Island'.pdf

Here is the first response from a grade 5 student (JdP):

"The Island by Armin Greder
This hard-hitting story of a refugee who washes up on an island unclothed and sad. At first all the islanders dislike him and decide what to do. The first idea is send him back to where he came from, all the islanders agree, but, the fisherman does not, he knows sending him back will be the death of the man. The fisherman gets the islanders to take the man in. The man is taken in reluctantly by the islanders and chucked into a goat pen and is fed scraps that usually feed a pig. Sadly the different man is not welcome and soon becomes a ‘threat’ to all the islanders. The islanders were very paranoid. In the end the islanders force the man away on his raft and burn the fisherman’s boat because he made them bring the man in. The also built big walls with watchtowers to keep refugees out and anyone else for that matter. This story is set on an island in the middle of an ocean. The island is an isolated place. It had big waves surrounding the island.
I think that the main ideas of this story are that people won’t always accept others and also that peoples' feelings can have a lot of impact on the physical and mental acts. The contrasts between the three characters, the islanders, the fisherman and the refugee are stark. The islanders are quick to judge and they only accept their kinds of people, whereas the fisherman is kind and not judgemental at all. The refugee is completely different to both the islanders and the fisherman, he washes up on a shambled old raft with no clothes and no idea where he is. The islanders are chunky and have weapons and are in a mob, the refugee and the fisherman aren’t. The refugee, not so much, he is thin and has no weapons, no clothes, no nothing. The illustrations are powerful in this story. I think they have to be powerful because there are not many words. The charcoal illustrations really give an impact when you’re reading as there are a lot of white spaces that represent loneliness for the refugee. The illustrations also show the strong mob of islander’s ferociousness and ability to do things when they are together.

I think that this sad story is a very hard book to read, there is a tough start and it’s really hard to listen to throughout the story. Personally I thought the book would end a bit less open-ended then how it did. At the end of the story the fisherman’s boat is burned which, when you hear it, feels like everything just tightens in you, mainly your throat and your stomach. It’s not a nice feeling, but I like the fact that you get a bit of a sense of how refugees live. I like the story because it really put things into perspective. We live in warm, comfortable and safe houses and they have a wooden or straw house that isn’t very comfortable and that isn’t warm and sometimes not even safe. Overall I think the story was a tough read but it does help you understand what some people live like."

Here is another insightful response by a grade six student:

"The Island Response by CL
The Island by Armin Greder (Swiss illustrator) isn’t like most picture books you’ll come across. There’s nothing even remotely cute or fluffy about it. In fact, it’s the kind of book that will leave readers, both adults and children with chills. This is an important book and no less important for being pitched at young children as well as adults. The way it reveals the prejudice inherent in humanity and the fear of the unknown is superb. The Island painfully captures the violent hatred that the most harmless of outsiders can engender. This book show cases/ captures many emotions and traits of the world in people’s everyday lives and packs them altogether in one astonishing book. Some of the traits and emotions include racism, intimidation, prejudice, progression, fear, fear and xenophobic which means deep-rooted hatred towards foreigners and comes from the Greeks.
This book starts off with a chilling hard-hitting page showing a man (refugee) shipwrecked on an island un-clothed, helpless and sad with a man-made raft that has seen better days. It’s not long before the islanders find him and there first reactions are to send him afloat back to were ever he came from, but the fisherman is different from the rest of the hostile inhabitant’s and knows that if they did send him back into the mighty seas that would be the death of him-this is the confirmed by the double spread page of the magnificent surging sea’s done with charcoal grey. The fisherman doesn’t want that on his conscience so the fisherman persuades the islanders to cast him into an abandoned goat pen. Gradually the islanders realize that the man needs food and help, but the very thought of it brings out their most deep-seated prejudices. The refugee ends up being fed scraps that pig would only eat. One of the islanders comes up with an idea that he could help work, but everyone including the priest and teacher make up an excuse. The islanders use him as a bargaining tool saying that “if you don’t eat your food he will get you”. The islanders soon see him as to much of a hassle and decide to send him back on his raft into the blinding sea with the raft alight and the islanders made big walls with watch towers around the island to keep off any more refugee’s or “weird” people again forever.
This story is an amazing eye opener to many people that there will be “different” people that we’ll meet and that we shouldn’t cast them off or be threatened by  them but that we should embrace them and accept them and if other people are threatened we should help them to not be. Even though this story is not real it is all too real and is a good story in the fact that it shows what we don’t want our world to become- a world full of hatred and racism and alienation. This book also has a sad part to it because it shows how mean, selfish and inconsiderate human beings can be and shouldn’t be, for example when the islanders set the refugee alight back in the sea with his raft or when they threw him in the goat pen and fed him scrapes only pigs would eat. Instead of humbly offering him food and water and tending to him they isolated him and treated him as if he were an animal.

What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t all happy and bright and fake like many books- don’t get me wrong I love a nice warm and fuzzy book but It’s not very often you get a book that show cases some much depth and inner emotions as Armin Greder does in this book, especially the illustrations make the book come to life and really captures the audience with its flight through this lone individuals life and the events that happened. The last thing I loved about this book was the aspect of how you get to see how some refugee’s may be living in this world right now and that refugee’s never have a place to call home and to feel safe in and relaxed in, instead there always on the move having to keep traveling to find some where safe to live. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend that everyone should read it."

All students' responses are available for viewing in the classroom and are currently on display.

During the last holiday break I spent eight days on Christmas Island and looked at the detention centre there which is still in operation.. I was lucky enough to be able to photograph a book the children from the centre wrote during their stay there. They all valued education and learnt English quickly. Below ares some excerpts from the book they wrote as a gift and as a legacy for the islanders. These are some of the largely unheard stories written by Afghani adolescence who suddenly found themselves in very difficult circumstances. It is currently housed in the Tai Jin House ("Big Boss" in the Chinese Hokkien dialect). This museum and art centre has amazing and comprehensive displays and interactive media showcasing the history of Christmas Island since it's settlement in 1897. Christmas Island was purchased by the Australian Government  in 1958... and placed under the Commonwealth of Australia in 1958. Incidentally, 70% of the 2000 inhabitants are Chinese. Christmas Island is the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean and I will be sharing much about the endemic populations of birds, crabs and sea life. It unfortunately is only known for the detention centre aspect...and this does need to change. Indeed, Sir David Attenborough, considers its red crab migration as one of the world's  top 10 natural wonders. I will be sharing his film about this with the class.

Christmas Island Detention Centre photo courtesy of my husband in October 2015