February 27, 2023

The Prisoner and the Writer: Guest review

This review was written by student Bronte L.
Written by Heather Camlot
Illustrated by Sophie Casson
Groundwood Books
64 pp.
Ages 9-12

The year is 1895 and Alfred Dreyfus is imprisoned on Devil’s Island off the coast of South America. The French government has accused him of selling military secrets to the German government. All he has are the books and letters his wife sends him and the memories. There are the memories of the day the stripes were ripped off his military uniform and his sword broken in two, and all the people shouting for him to be dead, because of the crime he did not commit, and because he was a Jew. And, of course, there are the memories of his children and wife back in Paris. Dreyfus had been sentenced here for life, and, although he knows he is innocent, there is nothing he can do.
From The Prisoner and the Writer by Heather Camlot, illus. by Sophie Casson
Back in France, in 1897, Emile Zola hears Dreyfus’ story. The newspapers say he is guilty, but many people think otherwise. Zola is captivated by this debate. He learns about the trial, searches for the facts, and eventually he is led to the truth that Alfred Dreyfus was innocent and a victim of antisemitism, now suffering for a crime he did not commit. Although Zola is a stranger to Dreyfus, and his successful career could be on the line, Zola decides to speak against the government, and tell the country what has happened. Emile Zola writes “J’accuse…!”, an open letter laying out all he has learned, and why Dreyfus should be released. This letter will change both their lives.
From The Prisoner and the Writer by Heather Camlot, illus. by Sophie Casson
The Prisoner and the Writer, written by Heather Camlot and illustrated by Sophie Casson, is a short, nonfiction picture book about the story of Alfred Dreyfus and Emile Zola. It tells how one stranger’s bravery and search for justice saved the life of an innocent man, and made news across the country. The book includes additional notes about this historical event, and teaches the reader how to identify disinformation and biased news, which is certainly an important skill in our current times.

Before reading this book, I had never heard of Dreyfus or Zola, or their incredible story. I can’t believe that’s the case, because it is such an inspirational one! Heather Camlot’s poetic writing, paired with Sophie Casson’s cool pastel illustrations, with dashes of fiery reds and glowing oranges, make you feel as though you’re watching a historical drama. The author’s notes on the affair and issues in the press today were just as essential, tying the story to the work we still have in improving our media, and in becoming more inclusive.

I give The Prisoner and the Writer a rating of 4.5 out of 5. I would recommend it to Grades 4 and up; to anyone trying to teach kids about disinformation, media, or persuasive writing; to those with a passion for history; and, of course, to anyone who hasn’t heard the sensational story of Emile Zola and  Alfred Dreyfus! 
~ Written by Bronte L., a Grade 9 student


  1. Thank you so much, Bronte! I'm so glad you enjoyed The Prisoner and the Writer, and learned about these incredible men!

  2. Thank you Bronte, what you say about the illustrations touch me very much! I'm glad you were taken by this important story!