Book Review: Free? Stories About Human Rights from Amnesty International

Whenever I go into Barnes and Noble, or some other such bigger bookstore, I make sure to pick up at least one guilty pleasure book and one book that absolves me of guilt altogether. On my last trip to B & N, this book is the one that I just knew would take away any of the guilty pleasures I had enjoyed that day.

It's been awhile since I've done anything to promote awareness about social causes (outside of lessons I teach in the classroom), and it feels good to think about organizations like Amnesty International again. Aside from being a great inspiration, this collection of shorts stories and poetry was a great read. I am not a huge fan of short stories (hence my stalled attempt at finishing Pretty Monsters, which has been collecting dust on my bedside table for months).  But this is more than a group of tales pieced together: It is the story of universal human rights.

In fact, each of the stories in this collection is paired with an actual Article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There are thirty such articles expressed in this document, but there are millions of people who have lived their lives without enjoying the simple freedoms that this document seeks to protect. 

Here are synopses of my favorite stories/ poems from this collection with the Article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the story illustrates:

"Klaus Vogel and the Bad Lads" by David Almond: A group of neighborhood boys are bullied into discriminatory acts by the leader of their "gang". It takes a new boy, who has survived unspeakable trauma, to show the boys that peace and truth takes more patience and courage than violence and lies.

Article 1: We are born free and equal. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way.

"School Slave" by Theresa Brelsin: A young boy named Ryan, always in trouble at school, finds a mysterious message written on a piece of trash on his way home from school. In an act of extreme courage and daring, Ryan finds an illegal sweatshop, where a group of young children have been locked in. This is a thoughtful story that exposes a violent underground movement that uses children as slaves.

Article 4: Nobody has any right to make us a slave. We cannot make anyone else our slave.

"After the Hurricane" by Rita Williams-Garcia: This short story is written in verse. It is about the hours and days directly after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In this story, a group of boys searches the city for clean drinking water to bring to their families. They find themselves blockaded and kept from the water trucks. Guns are trained on them and police actually open fire when the boys attempt to walk toward the water truck. Incredibly powerful, especially given the brevity and cadence of the lines in this poem.

Article 13: We all have the right to go where we want to in our own country and to travel abroad as we wish.

And this is just the beginning. There are so many more moving stories in this collection. I did not absolutely love every one of the fourteen stories in this book, but I felt an overwhelming sense of purpose when reading it. I think that I need to share these stories and the issues that are raised in this collection with my students in the fall. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in civil and human rights.