Allison's Book Bag

Stamps, Prisoners, and PEN Canada

Posted on: April 15, 2014

Tomorrow I’ll review The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier. The picture book was inspired by the writer Nuremuhamet Yasin who was sentenced to ten years in a Chinese prison for writing a short story called The Wild Pigeon and the exiled journalist Jiang Weiping who had spent six year in a Chinese prison for a series of investigative articles he wrote exposing the corruption of a government official.

According to the back pages in The Stamp Collector, Lanthier met Jiang Weiping while volunteering for PEN Canada. She asked Jiang Weiping if there was at any point in writing letters to prisoners who weren’t allowed to see them. He said yes, “because the guards collect stamps”.

To enrich my understanding of The Stamp Collector, I researched the two writers which served as inspiration to Lanthier, as well as PEN Canada. It might also be of interest that the consensus of online reviews seems to be that the postmarks and Chinese characters used in the illustrations suggest a thinly-disguised China.


The author was detained by the Chinese authorities after the publication of his short story, The Wild Pigeon, because of his strong portrayal of a people deeply unhappy with life under Beijing’s rule. According to PEN Canada, he received a ten-year-sentence in November 2004 during a closed trial and with no legal representation. Below are links to the story itself, as well as a letter written by Jennifer Lanthier to protest his imprisonment.


A history major, this journalist veteran served as the northeast China bureau chief for a Hong Kong-based newspaper. Then in December of 2000, he was arrested after he published a series of eight reports about the Communist party corruption in a Hong Kong magazine. He received an eight-year sentence on charges of revealing state secrets, but was granted early release in 2006.

The sentence drew protest from journalist advocacy organizations around the world. Weiping wrote later that he was tortured by police in an attempt to force a false confession; he stated that he lost consciousness several times and once required hospitalization. After a guard agreed to deliver letters to Jiang’s wife, who had them published in Asia Weekly, Weiping reported that his treatment improved.

After a period of house arrest, Weiping obtained political asylum in Canada. Since 2009, he has lived in Ontario, with his wife and daughter. He continues working as a freelance journalist and calligraphist.

Below are links to relevant items of interest, including an article by Jiang Wieping:

PEN Canada

A portion of the proceeds of The Stamp Collector will go to PEN Canada, which is a branch of PEN International. On its website, PEN Canada lists the below descriptors of itself:

  • Helps free writers who are persecuted and, in many countries, imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing themselves.
  • Fights censorship and defends the right to freedom of expression. PEN has intervened in a number of landmark legal cases in the name of journalistic integrity and artistic freedom.
  • Educates Canadian students, through visits to schools made by writers in exile, about the importance of freedom of expression.
  • Researches and documents contemporary international violations of freedom of expression.
  • Programs Freedom to Read Week (in partnership with the Toronto Public Library), an event that emphasizes the central role
  • that free speech plays in any open and democratic society.
  • Supports refugee writers seeking amnesty from persecution in Canada by providing various opportunities, such as placement in residency programs at universities and other institutions.
  • Promotes literature through a series of annual literary events designed to stimulate dialogue, entertain, and celebrate writers and writing.

The Stamp Collector

Reception to The Stamp Collector has been overwhelmingly positive. Below are a few of its honors and awards:

  • October 2012: Indigo Books and Music, Canada’s largest book retailer, selected The Stamp Collector as their firm founder’s pick. The designation landed featured placement of The Stamp Collector in hundreds of stores nationwide.
  • January 2013: The United States Board on Books for Young People named The Stamp Collector to its USBBY 2013 Outstanding International Books Honor List. The USBBY is the U.S. national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
  • February 2013: The Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, a nonprofit organization chartered by the International Reading Association (IRA), selected The Stamp Collector for the Notable Books for a Global Society Award.
  • March 2013: The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation awarded Lanthier its New Writer Honor for The Stamp Collector. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by the late Keats and dedicated to enhancing the love of reading and learning in all children.
  • April 2013: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators awarded the Crystal Kite Award to The Stamp Collector. The Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.
  • September 2013: Both awards are administered by The Canadian Children’s Book Centre selected The Stamp Collector as a finalist for both the Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. The latter honors excellence in picture book illustration.
  • June 2013: The Huguenot Society of Canada Award, presented by the Ontario Historical Society, honored The Stamp Collector for bringing “public awareness to the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought”.

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