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Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Illegal Book Poster Image
Graphic novel paints harrowing picture of refugee crisis.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Illustrates the plight of refugee children from Africa. It shows "illegals" as more than merely faceless hordes, but as individuals with specific hopes and dreams.

Positive Messages

Family members work together to keep one another safe. Never give up hope of a better tomorrow. Refugees should be treated with respect and decency.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kwame and Ebo look out for each other as they follow the treacherous path from Africa to Europe. Both boys are brave and resilient, helping strangers survive the dangerous conditions.


Most of the violence is passive -- e.g., refugees left behind to die in the desert or drown in the final sea crossing. One refugee is shot and killed by a smuggler. An important character dies.


One character insinuates that another boy's sister works as a prostitute. The allegation is not true.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Illegal is a graphic novel written by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrated by Giovanni Rigano. It shows the plights of illegal immigrants trying to make their way from Africa to Europe. Scenes of violence are mostly passive: Refugees are left behind in the desert and the ocean. A refugee is shot by a smuggler. Many scenes feature young children in physical danger.

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What's the story?

At the start of ILLEGAL, Ebo discovers that his older brother, Kwame, has disappeared and knows that the older boy has left to make the hazardous journey from Ghana to Europe. Determined to join him, Ebo refuses to be left behind and sets off on his own. Ebo does find his brother, but the boys will have to face all kinds of peril, across the Sahara Desert to the dangerous streets of Tripoli to the deadly waters that separate them from their ultimate destination.

Is it any good?

The ongoing refugee crisis raises many issues about human rights, and this powerful, action-packed graphic novel illustrates their consequences for two homeless brothers. Structured along two different time frames, the narrative of Illegal keeps the level of suspense high, as the boys face dying by drowning or dehydration. Co-authors Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin and illustrator Giovanni Rigano show the humanity of the "illegals": More than a faceless horde, they're recognizable individuals with dreams of a better life.

Illegal addresses current events with compassion and empathy, and middle-grade readers are especially likely to embrace it enthusiastically.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the graphic novel format adds to the reading experience of Illegal. How are some subjects better suited to this medium than others?

  • Why are so many families in Africa desperate to leave their home countries? How should they be treated when they reach their destinations?

  • Why do some people oppose immigration -- illegal or legal? What support can people and governments give refugee families as they try to make new lives for themselves?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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