It is widely written about, even amongst children’s literature, that in parts of the world, girls are not allowed to go to school, but that many find ways to do so anyway. What sets this book apart is that it is based on a true story, and while there is some hope for Nasreen, overall it is a really melancholy tale without a happy ending. At 40 pages, author Jeanette Winter once again conveys a story that shows compassion instead of judgement and undeniable admiration for her characters. Written on a 4.2 level, the story packs a lot into small, simple sentences, and her illustrations do not shy away from the realities of Afghanistan. While I was surprised to see that twice the book was challenged, in 2014 and 2016, for showing Muslims praying and for violence, I was glad that it was never banned. The strength and determination of Afghani women should not be silenced, it should be shared and celebrated.
The story is told from the point of view of Nasreen’s grandmother. She is heartbroken that her granddaughter is not allowed to attend school and practice the arts as she was, and even her daughter-in-law, were able to do as children. Since the Taliban has come things are dark. Things get worse when one night soldiers come and take Nasreen’s father with no explanation. When he doesn’t return, Nasreen’s mother leaves to find him, displaying her own strength to independently take on a society that doesn’t permit her to go out alone. Unfortunately she does not return either, and Nasreen stops speaking. Grandma learns of a secret school for girls. Determined that Nasreen should know of the outside world, great risks are taken for many girls to learn in a private home a few doors down. Dodging Taliban soldiers and neighborhood boys helping keep their school a distraction starts to pay off as Nasreen finds a friend and starts to open her heart. The book ends with mom and dad still missing, but hope for Nasreen to see through the window education has opened for her, inshaAllah.