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Children's Fiction Prejudice & Racism

The Prisoner and the Writer

by (author) Heather Camlot

illustrated by Sophie Casson

Groundwood Books Ltd
Initial publish date
Oct 2022
Prejudice & Racism, Europe, Religion & Faith
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2022
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2022
    List Price

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7


When a Jewish army captain is falsely accused of treason and sent to prison, a writer uses his pen to fight for justice.

In 1895 a prisoner watches the ocean through the bars of his cell. Accused of betraying France, Captain Alfred Dreyfus is exiled to a prison on Devil’s Island, far from his wife and children. It’s a horrible fate — but what if he’s innocent?

Seven thousand miles away, the famous writer Emile Zola wonders: Is Alfred a traitor to France? Or a victim of antisemitism? Convinced that Alfred is innocent, Emile knows that it is his DUTY to help. He pens the famous letter “J’Accuse …!”, explaining that Alfred was blamed, charged, tried and convicted … only because he is Jewish.

This powerful middle-grade story written in verse with full-page illustrations is told from the perspectives of both Alfred Dreyfus and Emile Zola, two men whose courage changed the world. The true story of the Dreyfus Affair, published in time for the 125th anniversary of “J’Accuse …!”, acts as a reminder that a person committed to truth, justice and equality must stand up and speak out against prejudice for themselves — and for others. Includes an author’s note and further historical context.


Key Text Features

author's note




informational note

historical context

historical note

further information




Correlates to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts:

Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).

Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).

Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

About the authors

HEATHER CAMLOT is the author of the nonfiction What If Soldiers Fought with Pillows? and the Skipping Stones Honor Award novels The Other Side and Clutch, the latter of which was named among Kirkus’s Best Middle-Grade Historical Fiction. A journalist for more than 20 years, she has written, edited and translated for various publications, including Quill & Quire, Owl, TV Guide Canada and Style at Home. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.


Heather Camlot's profile page

SOPHIE CASSON has illustrated The Artist and Me by Shane Peacock, a finalist for the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, Quelle pagaille! by Danielle Marcotte and Laurence-Aurélie Théroux-Marcotte, a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, and Helen’s Birds by Sara Cassidy. Her highly acclaimed illustrations are inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and World War II–era posters. Sophie’s award-winning work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the New York Times, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times and Nature, as well as in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Sophie lives in Montreal, Quebec.


Sophie Casson's profile page


  • Commended, Junior Library Guild Selection

Editorial Reviews

An affecting account of the Dreyfus Affair that highlights the importance of acting against injustices. STARRED REVIEW


The Prisoner and the Writer works as a story in itself, whether or not young readers understand the history; as a starting point for discussion; or, with its rich back matter, as a whetting of the appetite for high school and beyond.

New York Times

Camlot’s brief, poetic text emphasizes the horrible conditions under which Dreyfus was imprisoned, the rampant anti-Semitism prevalent in France, and the personal consequences Zola suffered for his defense of Dreyfus. … Casson’s pastel illustrations … emphasize setting details and feature numerous views of the characters that emphasize their strongly felt emotions.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials

Beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed and easy to under­stand, The Pris­on­er and the Writer caters to young read­ers who may be encoun­ter­ing this piece of his­to­ry for the first time. … Writ­ten in com­pelling verse, [it] opens up many themes for impor­tant edu­ca­tion­al discussion.

Jewish Book Council

Short, forceful verses from Camlot (What If Soldiers Fought with Pillows?) pair with textured portraiture and landscapes by Casson (Helen’s Birds)—oil pastel monoprints with soft pastel—to pull readers into this story based on France’s Dreyfus affair.

Publishers Weekly

Illustrated in dominating tones of black, blue, and red, it’s the occasional bursts of yellow depicting sources of light that remind us that hope is still alive, even during the darkest of times. … A soul-stirring story that is just as moving visually, The Prisoner and the Writer is well worth the read, and is a great introduction to developing young readers’ critical thinking skills.

Montreal Review of Books

Beautifully illustrated, [The Prisoner and the Writer] is a vividly written parable for today’s age of misinformation. The concept is carefully formed and powerfully executed. … A delight and a uniquely valuable book for today’s world.

Historical Novel Society

A poetic and powerful presentation of the historic Dreyfus affair. … The text is both informative and evocative of struggle and emotion, and the illustrations, oil pastel monoprints, with added soft pastel, complement the text in their stark and melancholic tones.

Association of Jewish Libraries

Readers will see echoes of current events in this scandalous story of 1890s antisemitism, bias, and the role of upstanders in confronting prejudice.


A small but powerful book that … works on many different levels and can be an important tool in discussions with older students.

The International Educator Blog

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