Review: Amnesty International’s Dreams of Freedom in Words and Pictures

Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures (Amnesty international/Frances Lincoln, 2015)

Dreams of Freedom: In Words and Pictures
edited by Janetta Otter-Barry, designed by Judith Escreet, with a Foreword by Michael Morpurgo
(Amnesty International/Frances Lincoln, 2015)

All royalties donated to Amnesty International

Dreams of Freedom is a beautifully presented book pairing short, deeply salient quotations with powerful images that burst across each double-page spread, created by an international selection of award-winning illustrators.

The different dreams of freedom presented are not fantastical or imaginary – indeed, most of them are to be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This could make for somewhat depressing reading but, in fact, Dreams of Freedom is a hugely inspiring and uplifting, and deeply moving, book: firstly because of the quality of the single quotations under each heading, drawn from people who really know what freedom and the lack of freedom are (in fact several of them have at some point been declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International); and secondly because of the progression of the different dreams of freedom.  The last two put the key, as it were, into the readers’ hands to open the door to doing not just thinking: ‘Freedom to take responsibility’, citing Nelson Mandela, and ‘Freedom to make a difference.’ And thirdly because the illustrations are superlative: they offer a blend of realism and imagination that will appeal to children and allow them creative space for their own ideas: Shirin Adl’s collage illustration to Anatole France’s ‘Freedom to Dream’ quotation shows ordinary people in a busy street, with a child and a woman aglow as we are given a glimpse of their exhilarating dreams – and there will be plenty of young readers who also dream of having a pet dragon…

Jackie Morris depicts a goldfinch in a cage with a cat hanging onto it for ‘Freedom to enjoy life and liberty’.  It’s an ambiguous painting, beautiful and meticulous as all Morris’ artwork is, but menacing and capturing a moment of stillness amidst the torment that is so apt for the almost frenzied words of Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, murdered because of her strivings to give freedom to her voice: ‘Oh, I will love the day when I break out of this cage,/ Escape this solitary exile and sing wildly.’  A few pages on, Mordicai Gerstein divides the spread between darkness, loaded with chains and thorns and a hanging noose, and light, with colourful flowers and birds singing in glorious sunshine, to illustrate Harriet Tubman’s words describing her feelings as she ‘crossed that line’ between slavery and freedom so that an inkling of the ‘glory’ she experienced rubs off on us readers.  The final ‘chapter’ of the book, ‘Freedom to make a difference’, highlights the Chinese proverb that inspired Amnesty International founder Peter Benenson: ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.  Chris Riddell’s illustration combines his talents as a children’s illustrator and a political cartoonist with a representation of the famous Amnesty candle nurturing a naked, wide-eyed child who could be a girl or a boy from anywhere, whilst its flame keeps a threatening array of green-tinted, ugly creatures at bay.

The final spread breaks with the format of the rest of the book, offering a joyous poem by Paraguayan poet Elsa Wiezell (translated by Susan Smith Nash) that ends with the words, ‘That is why I love freedom!’  And I love how Korean artist Choi Jung-In’s illustration here conveys every illusion of the poem without a hint of clumsy over-emphasis to unbalance the effect of the whole.  A beautiful ending to a beautiful book!

Many children who read Dreams of Freedom will feel secure in their place in the world but they may well also be aware of other children who are not so fortunate. On the one hand, Dreams of Freedom serves as a reminder that freedom is precious and should never be taken for granted; on the other, it provides a spring board for young people both to develop and articulate their empathy with those who suffer because of a curtailment of their right to freedom, in whatever form that might be.  It may even inspire them to action: ‘to stand up for others and to make a difference’, as Michael Morpurgo says in his Foreword; and there are a few suggestions about how to go about that, and contact details for Amnesty International, at the end of the book.

There is a also a short note on each writer and illustrator featured, which makes fascinating reading, as well as providing some good contextualisation.  I must just mention, for example, ‘Freedom not to be unfairly imprisoned’, with Ros Asquith’s glorious illustration of a flying wheelchair accompanying words from Armando Valladares: ‘Wings will grow some day. On my wheelchair I will be able to fly&hell;’ This clever juxtaposition allows for thoughts to grow about different kinds of imprisonment, but being able to find out who Valladares is does also ground the quotation: ‘a Cuban artist who spent 22 years in prison and became an Amnesty prisoner of conscience. After torture, he was confined to a wheelchair for several years.’

I would like to say something about every one of the artists and wordsmiths featured but there just isn’t space here, and you probably feel I have said enough already! I will, however, list them below, and I can only urge you to go out and get hold of this beautiful book!

And I will give the final word to Raouf Karray’s gentle, whimsical depiction of a young man and woman holding hands and facing each other as they fly through the air together to return home, for ‘Freedom to have a home’.  Flying as a concept has always been associated with freedom and Karray conveys perfectly the hope and yearning in Harun Hashim al-Rashid’s words, which are so relevant today as we watch the human catastrophe in the Middle East getting heart-breakingly worse day by day: ‘One day we will return to our homeland snug and warm in our hopes. . . Oh, heart, no matter how far the winds scatter us we will return to our homeland.’


Illustrations by:

Shirin Adl (UK/Iran)
Ros Asquith (UK)
Barroux (France)
Dale Blankenaar (South Africa)
Gregory Christie (US)
Christopher Corr (UK)
Alexis Deacon (UK)
Shane Evans (US)
Mordicai Gerstein (US)
Oliver Jeffers (UK)
Choi Jung-In (South Korea)
Raouf Karray (Palestine)
Roger Mello (Brazil)
Sally Morgan (Australia)
Jackie Morris (UK)
Chris Riddell (UK)
Birgitta Sif (Iceland)
Peter Sís (Czechoslovakia/US)
Antje von Stemm (Germany)
Javier Zabala (Spain)

Words by:

Nadia Anjuman (Afghanistan)
Mikhail Bakunin (Russia)
Clare Balding (UK)
the Dalai Lama (Tibet)
Ali Ferzat (Syria)
Anatole France (France)
Anne Frank (Holland)
Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma)
Nelson Mandela (South Africa)
Jack Mapanje (Malawi/UK)
Marun Hashim al-Rashid (Palestine)
Chief Standing Bear (Ponca Native American)
Harriet Tubman (US)
Armando Valladares (Cuba)
Elsa Wiezell (Paraguay)
Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan)

Find teaching resources on the Amnesty International’s UK website .

View The Guardian’s Gallery of spreads from the book here.

Read Dreams of Freedom with We Are All Born Free and I Have the Right to Be a Child

Three books for children that explore the rights of the child: 'We Are All Born Free' and 'Dreams of Freedom' (both Amnesty international/Frances lincoln), and 'I Have the Right to Be a Child by Alain Serres, Aurelia Fronty and Sarah Ardizzone (Phoenix Yard Books)


  1. Pingback:Reconciliation and Friendship in the Face of Fear and Distrust in Children’s and YA Books |

  2. Wow, what an awesome book! I definitely need to check this one out, thanks! 🙂 #diversekidlit

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