A True Person

by Gabiann Marin and illustrated by Jacqui Grantford

(New Frontier Publishing Frenchs Forest NSW Australia 2007)

peace with ourselves-peace with each other

recommended but unavailable - maybe a copy in your local library


The reasons are varied as to why people leave their home countries and risk travelling to foreign lands hoping for refuge. For Zallah, the long journey by boat brought unexpected sickness and surprises. Her mother remained near and promised that soon all would be well. This stirring and thought provoking story is for all ages to enjoy and share together contains many peace-building elements:

  • happy endings

  • everyone winning

  • nonviolent resolution

  • imaginative and creative

  • challenges existing stereotyping

  • faith and hope

  •    peace with the environment

  • finding personal peace

  •     …..an element that supports the idea that peace is possible

Zallah encountered many new faces once she arrived in the new land and was placed behind fences and locked gates. The promise her mother made about having a new life was not a concept she could understand. She heard a new language and became friends with a man whose skin was black and he told he he would soon become a true person. As Zallah learns to feel safe and comfortable with all the new people and ideas with whom she must deal the reader begins to appreciate the feelings this small child experiences. Believing she would never become a true person Zallah's mother told her:

“No Zallah, to be a true person all you need are eyes that see you and hearts that love you."

This story honours the spirit of all refugees and asylum seekers but especially those who often escape from their dangerous homelands with only the clothes on their backs for the sake of their children. Although this story presents obvious political issues it focusses the reader's attention upon the powerful impact of detention upon children yet provides a happy win-win ending. The illustrations cleverly introduce the reader to Zallah allowing the reader to clearly see through her eyes.

Critical questions to explore with children 

  • Why do you think Zallah's mother cried a lot before they left their homeland?
  • Why do you think she amazed when she first saw the blue sea? 
  • Who were the people talking to Zallah's mother in a strange language when they first arrived in the new land?
  • Why do you think Zallah and her mother were put into a place that was surrounded by fences and the gates were locked?
  • Who were the new people she met when she was in the centre? Did she like them all?
  • What did Mwalo tell her about being a true person?
  • Does the story have a happy win-win ending?

Creative questions to explore with children

  • Why do you think Zallah did not remember her first home very well?
  • Did Zallah's mother believe she was a true person?
  • Are there people in your community who have been in detention centres? Would they have felt the same way as Zallah?
  • Would all people who are in detention centres be wanting the same things as Zallah and her mother?
  • Do you think children should be placed in detention centres?
  • How else could the story have ended with win-win?

© Teaching and Learning for Peace Foundation July 2007

return to story list

return to noticeboard