03 June 2009

Book of the Week (16): “Free?”

December 10th 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a document which in 30 articles enshrined some basic beliefs about how people should be treated. The right to education, the right to a home, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery – these things may seem obvious to you now, but they weren’t obvious then, and even today there are very many places in the world where these rights still can’t be taken for granted.

To commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration, and to remind us why it’s still so important today, Walker Books have produced this book: Free?.

Free? brings together an incredible array of writers from around the world, and each has produced a story inspired by one of the articles in the Universal Declaration. David Almond, Roddy Doyle, Eoin Colfer, Michael Morpurgo, Jamila Gavin, Malorie Blackman, Margaret Mahy and many others – amazing writers, and very varied writers too in style and in their approach to their subjects. Each brings one of these abstract-seeming ‘rights’ to life through a human story.

I chaired an event at the Hay Festival on Thursday in which Michael and Jamila discussed their stories and the importance of the Universal Declaration, and held an audience of a thousand people absolutely spellbound as they each read their piece. Jamila’s story looks at what happens when basic compassion is sacrificed in favour of some idea of ‘family honour’; Michael’s is a simple tale of a Palestinian boy who makes kites, and it made me cry. Theirs are among my favourites in the collection, but there are many other gems for you to discover here too in this varied, inspiring, important book.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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