United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16: PEACE, JUSTICE, & STRONG INSTITUTIONS

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

[Jaye Schaer, International School of Prague, Czech Republic]

Every day 100 civilians are killed in armed conflicts around the world.  In 2018, more than 70 million people had to leave their homes because of war, persecution, and conflict.  According to the UN refugee agency, that is the highest number of displaced persons since WWII.  Those who are fighting to protect vulnerable civilians risk their lives every day.  More than 350 human rights defenders and journalists were killed in 47 countries in 2019.  And unfortunately, the judiciary and police are among the most corrupt government agencies.  This leads to unequal and unfair treatment under the law.  The impact of violence on children seems especially cruel. More than 1 billion children worldwide are affected by violence.  That translates to 50% of the world’s children experiencing violence every year.  In fact, every 7 minutes, somewhere in the world, a child is killed by violence.  These are frightening statistics.  These topics are difficult but important to address in an age appropriate way with school students.

There are actually quite a few high-quality resources available online that promote picture books that teach about peace.  The following graphic novels (picture books for older readers) are targeted at more mature readers and present true stories or realistic representations of children and adults struggling without peace, justice, and strong institutions.

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel (2020) / Translated from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger / Suitable for elementary / WWII, Jewish children in hiding, France

Rachel is a student living at a boarding school outside of Paris.  When the German occupation begins to institute rules that single out Jewish citizens, the school works to protect the children in their care.  Rachel changes her name to Catherine and is hidden in a variety of homes in the Free Zone in France.  Throughout the journey, which lasts several years and involves starting over many different times, Catherine has her camera and finds comfort in her photography.  She documents her time with many kind people who go out of their way to protect her and other Jewish children.

Catherine’s War was originally a novel then turned into a graphic novel.  The photography translates beautifully into graphic form.  The story was based on the author’s mother who survived the German occupation of France in a similar manner to Rachel.

Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim (2017) / Translated from French by Helge Dascher / Suitable for middle school / Growing up in Iraq, living in France, family

Brigitte Findakly and her husband Lewis Trondheim have created an insightful look into a part of the world that, in the last 50 years, has mostly been shown as a war zone.  The story of Brigitte and her family in Iraq is often very ordinary: the stories of school and friends and family.  When Brigitte is 14 her family moves to France.  Living in France offers some new opportunities, but also has many new difficulties for the family.  She continues to visit family in Iraq when travel is possible and marks the changes to her homeland after each successive period of violence. 

The artwork includes sweet comic panels that don’t illustrate the violence in graphic detail, thus making the story appropriate for younger readers as well.

Zenobia by Morten Durr, illustrated by Lars Horneman (2018) / Translated from Danish /  Suitable for middle school / Syria, war, refugees, boats on the Mediterranean Sea

Zenobia was once a great warrior queen of Syria.  For Amina, a young Syrian girl caught up in the war that reaches her village, Zenobia is a model of how to be strong during difficult times.  In an effort to escape the war, Amina boards a small boat filled with other refugees.  The boat is overfull and unsafe and Amina and others are swept overboard into the rough seas.  In the dark water, Amina remembers playing hide and seek with her mother and making dolmas and the journey she made with her uncle to escape.  And she thinks of the brave warrior Zenobia. 

This is a heartbreaking story of one child’s experience with war told in few words and almost exclusively with pictures.

The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz (2015) / Translated from German by Laura Watkinson / Suitable for middle school / Cold War, divided Germany, immigration, family

Simon Schwartz was born in East Germany in 1982.  This memoir tells the story of his parents and their ultimate decision to try to leave East Germany for West Berlin.  There was a three-year gap between their initial application and government approval.  During those intervening years they suffered harassment and contempt from officials, neighbors, and family. 

This story looks at the challenging process of legal immigration and offers insight into what would motivate a family to start the process and the risks involved.

A Game for Swallows (2012) & I Remember Beirut (2014) by Zeina Abirached / Translated from French by Edward Gauvin / Suitable for middle school / Lebanese Civil War, family, community

In these memoirs, Abirached collects memories of her childhood in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. 

A Game for Swallows takes place on a single night when her parents are visiting family and the children are cared for by all the quirky neighbors in their building. 

I Remember Beirut includes many mundane memories of family and bad haircuts juxtaposed against moments that are sad reflections of a difficult time: from the time all the students had to sleep at school because it wasn’t safe to leave, to her brother’s ongoing collection of shrapnel. 

Both graphic memoirs show how the children were loved and cared for while growing up in a war zone.

Paracuellos by Carlos Gimenez (2016) / Translated from Spanish / Suitable for upper middle school/ Franco’s Spain, orphanages, abuse

Carlos Gimenez lived in Social Aid homes for eight years as a child.  During Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, children whose parents were killed, jailed, or otherwise incapacitated were placed in the homes with the intention of training them to be ‘good’ citizens.  Life in Social Aid was very difficult.  Within six months of Franco’s death, Gimenez began publishing short, two-page comic strips of true stories of the abuses the children faced.  He collected stories from many survivors and turned them into short comic vignettes. 

The stories are sad, but more than that, they take a dark period of history and bring it into the light.  They demand moral justice for the state’s failings in caring for its most vulnerable.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (2019) / Lithuania-American author / Historical YA novel set in Franco’s Spain

The latest novel from Ruta Sepetys, YA author of award-winning historical fiction like Salt to the Sea, is set in Franco’s Spain and deals with the “lost children.”

Madrid, 1957. Under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is living in silence. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into the country under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city. Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos and more. [Goodreads blurb]

On her website she provides educational resources related to the book, including a discussion guide and recommendations of other books — and Paracuellos is one of them.

After the Spring: A Story of Tunisian Youth by Helene Aldeguer (2019) / Translated from French by Edward Gauvin / Suitable for high school / Tunisia, political revolution

After the Spring follows four university-aged students from January-October of 2013.  As each deals with different personal struggles, including, unemployment, supporting family and siblings, attending university, and falling in love, they also interact with the difficult political issues happening in their country.  New adults are the perfect age to both talk about and get involved in creating change.  They go to protests, are harassed by police, and witness violence.  They are frustrated with the current situation and yearn for a better world. 

*At the end of the book, there is a narrative that outlines the details of what was happening politically in Tunisia.  Many readers who are not familiar with Tunisian politics would benefit from reading the background first.

Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking by Anne Elizabeth Moore, illustrated by The Ladydrawers (a collective of American and Austrian artists) (2016) / Suitable for high school / journalism, apparel industry, fast fashion, sex workers, women, US, Austria, Cambodia

Threadbare was originally published as a monthly comics journalism series looking at the international apparel trade.  The book begins by looking at the change in the clothing industry from seasonal, local, durable clothing to a globalized system of fast fashion that produces cheap, disposable clothing at an insane pace.  To meet the needs of the industry, seamstresses in developing countries work in often terrible conditions for very little pay. 

According to Moore, the garment industry employs approximately one-sixth of all women on Earth and is probably the single-most responsible entity for the gender wage gap.  Moore travels around the world looking at the impact of business models, government policies, and non-governmental organizations on the garment industry and women’s lives.  The reporting does transition into looking at sex work and to what extent it is a chosen profession for women in desperate situations. 

The reporting is divided into four sections: The United States, Austria, Cambodia, and The World.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris by Bessora, illustrated by Barroux (2018) / Translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone / Suitable for high school / Africa, illegal migration, refugee camps

Months after Alpha sent his wife and son from Cote d’Ivoire to Paris to join her sister, he begins the risky process of illegal migration himself.  Unsure if they survived, but hoping to find news of them in his travels, he begins a harrowing journey that lasts more than a year.  He encounters human traffickers, refugee camps, and overcrowded boats.  Along the way, he meets other memorable travelers on their own desperate journeys.

This graphic novel was longlisted for the inaugural Global Literature in Libraries Initiative Translated Young Adult Literature Book Prize.

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Jean-Phillipe Stassen (2006) / Translated from French by Alexis Siegel / Suitable for high school / Rwanda, genocide, mental health, PTSD

Meet Deogratias, a young Hutu man coming of age in Rwanda in 1994.  He has complex feelings for two sisters in his village, but they are Tutsi.  When the conflict comes, Deogratias wants to protect the people he cares about, but struggles.  We also see Deogratias after the violence and he is visibly changed.  Dirty, drinking alcohol, and experiencing delusions, we can tell that he has been traumatized.  There are only a few panels that talk about what happened during the conflict itself, but the impact is easy to see. 

What Deogratias illustrates is the terrible mental toll of war.

The Attack by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Glen Chapron (2016) / Translated from French by Ivanka Hahnenberger / Adapted from a novel by Yasmina Khadra / Suitable for high school / Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suicide bombers

Amin is an Arab doctor living and working in Israel.  One night after working to save the lives of victims of a suicide bombing, he is informed that his wife was the bomber.  He cannot accept the possibility that she would have intentionally killed herself and others. He begins a journey to search for the truth that leads him into dangerous situations where he must confront difficult truths.  The Attack is an insightful look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Along with Amin, we try to understand how reciprocal cruelties perpetuate the violence of life in Israel.


Jaye Shaer has been a teacher and a librarian for 23 years.  She is currently working with middle school and high school students at the International School of Prague in the Czech Republic.  Previously she worked in Vietnam, Kazakhstan and the U.S.  Seeing the world both through travel and through books has been the driving motivator in her choice to be an international school librarian.

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 16: Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

2 thoughts on “United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16: PEACE, JUSTICE, & STRONG INSTITUTIONS

  1. Thank you so much for introducing me to these graphic novels. I plan to add many to my TBR. If you ever are looking for non graphic novels, my book The Last Cherry Blossom, based on my mothers experience/loss to the atomic bomb in Hiroshima at age of 12. Is used by UN ODA as education resource about danger of nuclear weapons and need for peace. This series that this blog is doing, has been so informative. Thank you for taking the time to find and list all these resources!

    Liked by 1 person

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