The arresting jacket cover prepares the reader for the story to come. A thoughtful perhaps sad child stands before a wire fence background. Seven-year-old Zallah provides the sole perspective for this story. She has vague memories of her homeland where it was dry, hot and sandy. Rarely did they go outside, and her mother cried a lot. Zallah remembers the boat trip where she got very sick. Her mother assured her that they would soon start their new life. This new land is behind fences and locked gates. Her mother assures her that they will only be there a little while and would soon start their ‘new life’. What is a new life, Zallah wondered?
Zallah befriends the tall black man, Mwalo, from Africa. Mwalo conveys this story’s meaning when he explains that he is a ‘true person’, one who has all his papers. These papers mean ‘you can say who you are and they let you out of here sooner.’ Zallah’s mother disagrees and suggests, ‘To be a true person all you need are eyes that see you and hearts that love you’. When Mwalo says goodbye to Zallah, she is sad because men could not leave. Zallah and her mother are moved from the Centre to the city, but the text suggests that they not yet able to start their new life.
Mwalo is based on an ex-detainee whom the author met. She was moved by his explanation that a ‘true person’ as one who is an undocumented refugee which, in turn, relates to their treatment in detention centres. Illustrator Jacqui Grantford’s uses strong, darkly coloured oils. These cover the entire page, effectively conveying the human and emotional aspects of this story. Zallah’s close-up facial expressions feature teary and sad eyes. The illustrator’s naturalistic realism of facial expressions is enhanced through Grantford using a mother and her daughter as models.
‘A True Person’ was chosen as a White Raven, one of 250 international books for children and young adults, chosen by the International Youth Library in 2008. These books ‘deserve worldwide attention because of their universal themes and/or exceptional and often innovative artistic and literary style and design’.