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Prejudice, isolation and alienation

Picture books that explore the issues of prejudice, isolation and alienation

When I am going into schools at the moment lots of heads and teachers are asking me about texts to use to explore complex issues such as the plight of the refugees and radicalisation.  Consequently, I have been collecting a number of interesting, high quality texts that could be used to introduce such difficult and contentious issues through literacy.

In Foundation Stage and KS 1 there are a number of books about being different and learning to see the beauty in that. Boris starts school by Carrie Weston and Tim Warnes tells the story of a bear who everyone is frightened of because they have never had a creature like him at school. The prejudice he encounters makes him sad, but eventually everyone realises that he is brave and wonderful, as he becomes their hero. This is great for talking about why children might be worried about someone who is different from them and helps them understand what really matters!

boris starts school

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Texts, such as Pig’s Knickers by Jonathon Emmett, cleverly play around with the idea of loving yourself for who you are, even though you might be different to everyone else. It is a funny book that uses humour to help children see that it’s not about the knickers you wear, but who you really are that counts!

pigs knickers

In KS 2 there are a number of texts that focus on being different and fitting in. Some like The Numberlys  by William Joyce and Christina Ellis are interested in what it is like to feel that you have to be like everyone else and not have an identity. This could be used to help children think about the importance of following what they believe rather than following the crowd. It is set in a world where everyone is merely a number and although they might look different their world is homogenised. Some numbers decide that they want to change this status quo and seek the help of the letters, so they can begin to live in a different sort of world! There is a wonderful APP that can be used in conjunction with the book to really help it come to life

the numberlys

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I have used other texts, like Greenling by Levi Pinfold, to help children to think about how we treat people who come into our community. This exquisitely illustrated picture book, tells the story in poetic form of an old man who finds a baby in the sewers and brings him back to his rather drab home and sombre wife. As the pages unfold this tiny new life slowly changes the man’s world and brings colour and life. At first his wife is distrustful, but soon realises that Greenling is a creature of hope and happiness. One morning the creature disappears but has left their world a different place.


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If you are looking for a more challenging text that will really make children question how we treat strangers then look no further than the amazing picture book The Island by Armin Greder. The dark illustrations really bring this story about cruelty and fear to life, as we read about what happens to a naked stranger who is washed up on the shore of an unnamed island. The images of the inhabitants and how they respond to him will make your pupils really think about humanity and human nature.


It is a wonderful tool for dramatic exploration as many of the characters are exaggerated and will allow the children to investigate the extremes in people’s beliefs. This book tackles many of the questions that children are seeing discussed in the media, but there is a subtlety that makes the text very accessible:

island2shaun tan

Many of Shaun Tan’s texts are focused on unique characters fitting into strange worlds. His text The Lost Thing is a wonderfully quirky picture book about a lost creature who tries to find himself in a world that is totally lacking in any individuality.

It is poignant as we watch him searching for recognition and a place where he truly belongs. There is an animation to accompany the text that can be downloaded at

lost thing

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The Rabbits written by John Marsden and illustrated by Tan is quite a shocking picture book that depicts a world of harmless creatures trying to protect their land from the onslaught of an unstoppable army of rabbits. There are a number of references to the plight of the Aborigines and we are left questioning the cruelty and injustice of colonisation.

the rabbit

the arrivals

The Arrival is a wordless picture book packed with beautifully crafted realistic images that allow children to discuss issues such as separation and loss, as well as alienation and immigration. The story follows a man who has to leave his family to go to a new state, where oppression looms everywhere. The illustrations are small works of art and every page will stimulate analysis and discussion.

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This page focuses on the pain of separation as a father leaves his wife and child at the train station.

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Initially, pupils act out the scene, frame by frame so they can explore the actions and reactions in depth. Moments can be frozen and discussed, whilst language gathered. Notes are taken and these are then developed into sentences, with each picture being a new sentence to move the description on. Specific adverbial phrases could be explored or embedded clauses added to allow children to hone their writing skills.

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Pupils can then deduce what might have been written in the letter from the father for his daughter.  Work can be planned and drafted before being edited and ‘published’. Instructions for creating an origami bird could be followed to enable a really high quality display to be generated:


Here are the displays of the Year 6 children’s letters at Laneshawbridge Primary School in Colne. The beauty of their work is evident.


Other images from the text have been used to underpin Grammar and Punctuation, as children have brought one of the scenes to life and annotated it with their ideas about people’s responses to their situations.



These images could then be used to help children think about what it is like to be a refugee today. A brilliant Refugee poem written by the BBC correspondent Fergal Keane could also be used to help pupils generate their own poetic response to the refugee crises:


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