This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 18.2.
The Stamp Collector is both narratively and visually compelling. While I have listed it as aimed at perhaps Grades 3 to 5, any reader who loves an artistically structured, beautifully illustrated story of compassion and humanity will be entranced by this seemingly simple tale. It is—as the first stanza states—a “story of a boy who loves stamps and a boy who loves words” and the men that they become. Presented with the lyric quality of fairy-tale, it is nonetheless a story of human suffering in a recognizable political setting. The free-verse structure of the story, with its four-line stanzas, its short terminal lines, creates an almost mythic quality that is belied by—and renders accessible—the very real theme of political persecution. The heart-rending fate of the “boy who loves words” is alleviated for the reader by the real hope that his message—a message we are left to imagine—spreads to his readership, to his world. He learns how his words have inspired others only through the compassionate intervention of the “boy who loved stamps.” The two are inextricably connected, and it is through their serendipitous relationship that we are given the author’s final story. The circular symmetry of the text is parallelled in the opening images of the young “boy who loves stamp” outside the prison house he lives near, and final image of the man who loves stamps walking away from his prison job, to find the library his incarcerated friend could not, to record the words that his friend had told him. The ink and watercolour illustrations are both slightly surreal and hauntingly real, as befits this tale that is both so temporally specific and yet transcends culture and time.