Illegal by Eoin Colfer – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Have you ever been searching for an inspiring novel that will capture the attention of your classroom? If so, Illegal by Eoin Colfer could be what you seek!

This captivating story of two young boys fleeing their homes in a violent country and risking everything to cross borders illegally to reach freedom provides a valuable perspective on a real-world issue.

In this article, we’ll cover how to plan a teaching unit based on reading Illegal in the classroom – from exploring themes and ideas with your students to activities designed to encourage discussions around immigration.

So, if you want your class inspired and engaged while they explore these critical topics – keep reading!

Related: For more, check out our article on The Borrowers by Mary Norton  here.

Plot Summary of Illegal by Eoin Colfer

The novel Illegal by Eoin Colfer tells the story of Ebo, a young African refugee struggling to survive independently in an unfamiliar country. After witnessing a traumatic event, he steals a bicycle and sets out on an epic journey in search of his sister, who he was separated from during their escape from war-torn Ghana.

Along the way, he encounters helpful people and dangerous obstacles as he navigates the new country’s culture and bureaucracy. As the story progresses, we follow Ebo on his journey and share in his successes, failures, heartache and triumph as he strives to reach freedom.

Key Themes in Illegal


The journey Ebo embarks on is a metaphor for the struggles experienced by refugees and displaced people in our modern world. His dangerous adventures abroad reflect how difficult it can be to find safety and freedom, mainly when alone and unfamiliar with their new environment.


Ebo’s quest to find his sister represents more than a physical search — it symbolises his search for identity as he tries to reconcile his past with his present. This theme follows him as he learns more about who he is and how this shapes his path.


Throughout the novel, we see the community’s power to protect and hinder Ebo. He relies on the kindness of strangers to make it safely from place to place but also must manoeuvre around government policies designed to keep people out. The impact of these relationships plays an essential role in Ebo’s story.

Key Characters in Illegal


Ebo is the novel’s protagonist and the engine that drives the story forward. His journey to freedom forms the novel’s core, and his struggles are at the heart of every scene as he navigates through a new country and culture, searching for his sister.

Nana Kwesi

Nana Kwesi is Ebo’s uncle and a source of wisdom, support, and protection. He journeys with Ebo on his European trip and is his ally in trouble. His guidance helps Ebo understand how to cope with difficult situations while providing insight into Ghanaian folklore and traditions.


Gordan is a political officer who graciously assists Ebo when he applies for asylum in England. He genuinely cares about Ebo’s plight and recognises his potential, an important reminder that not all bureaucracy or power needs to be oppressive.

Summary of Ebo’s Journey in Illegal

Ebo’s journey in Illegal is filled with danger, uncertainty, and heartache. It begins with his homeland of Ghana being engulfed by civil war, forcing him to flee as a refugee and seek safety abroad.

Along the way, he faces several obstacles: corrupt officials demanding bribes, treacherous seas between continents, and harsh climates that sap his energy and intensify the already difficult conditions of his travels.

He searches for the sister he was separated from during their flight from Ghana. Ultimately, he reaches England, where he is granted asylum and finds refuge.

Learning Opportunities from Illegal

  1. Immigration: Students can explore the dangers and difficulties of immigration, such as exploitation and bureaucracy, through Ebo’s journey in the novel.
  2. Refugee rights: The book provides an opportunity to discuss the human rights of refugees and how necessary it is for countries to protect displaced persons.
  3. Culture: By studying some of the Ghanaian characters in the story, students can gain insights into the culture’s traditions and customs.
  4. History: Investigating the circumstances leading up to Ebo’s flight from Ghana can help students understand global conflicts and their consequences.
  5. Citizenship: Through lessons on citizenship, we can use Ebo’s journey to consider belonging in a particular place and how to contribute positively to society regardless of background or legal status.

Lesson Plans Based on Learning Opportunities from Illegal

Lesson 1: Exploring Immigration


Students will gain an understanding of the challenges faced by immigrants, with a focus on Ebo’s journey in Illegal.


  • Screen a short video related to immigration and have students discuss what they learned from it.
  • Have the students read passages from Illegal that highlight Ebo’s experiences and challenges as an immigrant.
  • Assign a writing project where students create their own immigrant story based on research on contemporary immigration issues.

Lesson 2: Examining Refugee Rights


Students will explore the rights of refugees in different countries by studying Ebo’s circumstances in Illegal. Activities:

  • Read Illegal passages highlighting Ebo’s struggles to secure refugee status in other countries.
  • Have students write essays reflecting on what they think are the most important rights for refugees and why.
  • Research organisations dedicated to promoting refugee rights have students break into groups and identify various ways those organisations help improve refugees’ lives worldwide.

Lesson 3: Investigating Global Conflicts


Students will understand some of the global conflicts which led to the displacement of people like Ebo in Illegal.


  • Break down conflicts across the globe into smaller topics, such as causes, effects, and potential solutions and assign each group a specific topic to investigate further using news articles or other resources.
  • Give each group 10 minutes to present their findings, followed by a class discussion. – Have students examine how these conflicts can lead to displacement, like what happened with Ebo in Illegal, then brainstorm constructive ways they can promote peace and justice both locally and globally.

Teaching Children About Displacement

  1. Start by introducing the concept of displacement and why it happens. Talk through examples of displacement caused by natural disasters, conflict, and famine.
  2. Involve children in activities like role-playing to help them understand different perspectives and experiences related to displacement.
  3. Engage children in conversations about what a displaced person may face, such as language barriers and financial difficulties in another country.
  4. Have children research organisations or individuals helping with humanitarian relief efforts for displaced people worldwide.
  5. Arrange an online meeting with someone who has experienced displacement so that students can hear their stories firsthand and ask questions about their experience.

Organisations and Individuals Providing Humanitarian Relief for Displaced People

  1. Doctors Without Borders: This organisation provides medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare.
  2. International Rescue Committee (IRC): The IRC helps refugees and those displaced by famine, war, and other disasters with lifesaving aid such as food, clean water, shelter and healthcare.
  3. UNHCR: The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) works to protect the rights of refugees and displaced people worldwide.
  4. Save the Children: This organisation works to save the lives of children affected by displacement due to natural disasters or conflicts worldwide by providing them access to basic needs like food and shelter, and education opportunities.
  5. Angelina Jolie: Actress Angelina Jolie is a UNHCR Special Envoy who has participated in more than 40 field missions related to helping displaced people globally since 2012.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin

  • Teaching Resource (Tes)  provides teachers notes to help use this book in classrooms to promote discussion around displacement issues.
  • Teaching Books interviews authors Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, discussing their book Illegal, their creative process, and how they hope it will impact readers’ understandings of immigration and refugee issues.
  • Educate Empower Blog reviews Illegal from a teacher’s perspective, highlighting key themes from the book, such as resilience and compassion in the face of displacement.
  • Amazon offers the physical edition of the book for purchase from various retailers across Europe or for digital download in Kindle format on Amazon UK.


Q: What is the book Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin about?

A: Illegal is a story about friendship and courage written by authors Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin. It follows refugee Ebo who must flee his home country due to displacement caused by military unrest. Along the way, he meets a group of fellow travellers who become close friends as they make their treacherous journey towards Europe in hopes of a brighter future.

Q: What format is the book available in?

A: The book is available in physical editions from various European retailers or for digital download in Kindle format on Amazon UK.

Q: Where can I find discussion questions to use with the book?

A: Tes provides teachers notes to help use this book in classrooms to promote discussion around displacement issues here.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Add your form here