CHILDREN'S BOOK ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Seen and Heard: Young People’s Voices and Freedom of Expression is uniquely positioned to co-produce creative protests with young people through a collaborative exploration of the influence of literature on youths’ understanding of their rights, particularly freedom of expression. To this end, and from within our consortium of partners, Amnesty International Poland is taking the lead on creating a children’s book on freedom of expression and creative protest, and delivering teacher training on human rights education.

 

The Seen and Heard children’s book

Amnesty International has a long history of exploring the creative power of children’s literature to build understanding of human rights, develop empathy and give young readers the confidence to take action. We are especially interested in how this can be done in a non-didactic way that upholds children’s rights to freedom of expression.

With Seen and Heard, our approach needs to be different to most traditional publishing processes, because we will make this book with, by and for the young people participating in the project – which means we don’t yet know what they will want and thus what will happen. It is an exciting challenge, as the book must represent the thoughts and ideas of young people who, between them, come from many cultural and country backgrounds and speak at least eight different languages. Their ages range from eleven to fourteen, encompassing childhood and adolescence. Between them, they have considerable lived experience of hardship, discrimination and xenophobia, but it would be wrong to categorise them in this way. They are complex, nuanced, joyous human beings with a whole set of rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including not only freedom of expression, but also the right to play. We adults need to be responsible for ensuring that we do not burden them in decision-making for this book, but rather encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas – only if they so wish.

Considering these factors, we have explored various book genres, tending towards the visual but avoiding picture books that young people often view as too childish. We have given serious consideration towards comic books, but after much deliberation have decided on an illustrated communal poem. This allows the young people to contribute words and illustrations of their own, if they choose to.  Their words will be curated by prize-winning author and activist Sita Brahmachari, who has many years’ experience of community work with refugees, children and young people, as well as of developing communal art. The poem will flow through the pages like a river, illustrated by former UK Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell and the children. Chris will be participating in online mentoring workshops in Germany, Malta and Poland, encouraging the young people to have fun drawing as a form of self-expression.

As we jointly compile the book, we will be paying close attention to the thoughts and feelings of the children and young people, ensuring that they are – and that they feel – seen and heard.

 

Children’s literature as human rights education

Stories are some of the best ways of learning about the world. At Amnesty, we have found that applying a human rights lens to children’s fiction can be an enriching and enjoyable experience for all young readers. It can also be a sensitive approach for children who have experienced trauma and who may struggle with the more direct content of non-fiction.

The Seen and Heard researchers have been using a fun piece of origami originally created by Amnesty International UK. The Human Rights Story Explorer can be used alongside stories to encourage children to think about whose voice is heard, whose isn’t, who has power, who doesn’t. It gives them simple tools to chat about what, if anything, they would change in the story, and why. These questions about voice, equality and power may be of lifelong value. This resource is completely free and we encourage educators everywhere to download and have fun with it – please feel free to translate it too. Perhaps your children and young people have suggestions as to how to change it? We would welcome all feedback.

Yellow pencil

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