Here I Stand: Stories That Speak For Freedom

Small Here I StandEditor: Amnesty International UK
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd (2016), 311 pages
RRP: $22.99

Here I Stand is an amalgamation of stories from writers around the world and aimed at a teenage audience. The book includes twenty-five short stories (including two graphic), poems and an interview that deal with essential themes relating to Human Rights, including power: it’s use, abuse and loss; the intertwining of hope and despair; and the physical, emotional and mental suffering that often results when all these themes are encountered. Here I Stand is often hard to read: it opens with six short vignettes from victims, perpetrators and prosecutors of sexual abuse, immediately highlighting to readers that human rights atrocities don’t just occur in third world or repressed countries. The complexities of domestic violence, inequality, combat zones and suicide bombings, racism, homophobia and refugees are further explored in an open and honest way and for many students, this may be confronting. The redeeming and most moving feature of the text; however, is the underlying message that every single person can initiate and facilitate change – a notable message made obvious through Frances Hardinge’s Bystander.

Throughout the text these leading issues concerning human rights lend themselves to a variety of textual and social studies with each story in the collection adding meaning and depth to studies in the English classroom. Immediately the idea of comparative texts springs to mind as students explore the way the different themes are dealt with by differing writers. As well as the comparison of themes, the ability to compare different writing styles and genres is also present.  Amy Leon’s poem Black/White is visually laid out in two columns, one side exploring the life of a black boy from birth, the other side exploring the life of a white child and the inherent differences in privilege are highlighted. This poem would make a great activity to explore how language (through direct contrasts) and rhythm are used to create meaning and a class or paired reading would allow students to explore the relevance of prosodic features. The final interview with Chelsea Manning (the American soldier who leaked confidential and sensitive documents during the Iraq and Afghan conflicts) allows for the examination of a different style of writing. The notion of the role of Governments as a protective agency for its people is raised and would make a good entry point for Project Based Learning with students exploring the big idea of ‘Whose role is it to protect people?’

Here I Stand is unapologetic in the way it explores sensitive issues that 21st century students are faced with and should be aware of. Whilst many of the stories would be appropriate for lower secondary students, the book (as a whole) is best suited for Years 9 and above.

Reviewed by Nerrida Prosser, The Hamilton Alexandra College