I’m going to try my best to review a nonfiction autobiographical book and focus on the story, not on the author because yikes, Pakistanis have strong opinions about Malala, and I have no desire to get pulled in to an argument. I’m half Pakistani, I know the position of both sides.
I have read both the Young Readers Edition and original I Am Malala books, so I didn’t jump to review this book in 2017 when this AR 3.6 40 page re-re-telling of her story came out. After reading numerous other children’s books about girls in the subcontinent striving to go to school and be educated, I thought maybe the controversy had calmed down and I could read this large hardbound book a bit more objectively, and thus focus on the story a bit more.
The book is listed as a biography, not an autobiography, so I’m not sure Malala even wrote the book, but none the less it is a synopsis of her story for younger elementary children.
Starting off a bit like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Malala asks if the reader believes in magic, and then tells what she would do if she had a magic pencil to draw things that would make other’s happy like a proper soccer ball for her brothers and a way to stop time so she could sleep in a little longer in the morning.
Every night she hopes for a magic pencil, and every morning she is sad one hasn’t appeared. As she starts to notice the world around her she realizes that the kids looking for food and metal scraps in the junk yard, have it much much worse. She asks her father about it and learns that if the children were in school their family’s might go hungry.
As she notices “real” problems around her, her ideas for what her magic pencil could fix, evolves and develops into a burgeoning social conscience. But quickly her naive outlook is changed when dangerous men start to appear on the streets and girls in her class stop coming to school.
Her magic pencil finds real world power when she uses her words and her voice to make a stand and people start to pay attention. The rest of the book highlights how she made progress despite the attempt to stop her and how she now uses her “magic pencil” to work to make a more peaceful world.
The surface story is incredibly hopeful and would motivate young children to notice the world around them and do what they can to improve it. Inquiring children might be alarmed at children going through trash, or want a lot more information about who the scary men are and why they don’t want girls going to school and why she gets to travel around and tell her story. Information that is given at the end of the book in an afterwards of sorts.
Most pages have sparse text and the ones that have a lot are kept on level and avoid being preachy. Even the attempt on her life is present, but not detailed, sufficing to say that they tried to silence her, but failed.
The illustrations are beautiful and tell the story as much as the words do. The book does not mention religion, but in the pictures where she is out of the house her hair is covered, but not when she is at home in bed and whatnot. Obviously it is how she carries her self in real life.
Overall, I think the book is incredibly well done and inspiring to young readers. Anytime a modern day figure can show children that they too have a voice and can use it, I think it is a good thing. The fact that the voice comes from a minority, a female, a person with a name and culture different than the ones in most western children’s text books is also a plus. I hope if nothing else it opens a window to children that there are a lot of amazingly strong and courageous people in all cultures and to seek out their stories.
I think we need to be really careful about context with Malala. For instance, the book portrays “dangerous” men in native Muslim attire – something our younger kids could easily identify with men in the Masjid or Muslims in general.
I had honestly never thought of that, being as the Taliban does dress that way and do identify as Muslim. But now that you raise the point, I feel like for non Muslims perhaps this is a valid concern, but for Muslims, I think we need MORE discussion not less. I think we need to teach our children to be safe, no matter who they are around, and not to assume based on where you are or what someone looks like that they are safe. That isn’t to say we should raise children who are terrified of everyone, but smart, yes.
Your comment reminded me of a workshop I attended 13 years ago or so when I started teaching in an Islamic School and the Elizabeth Smart case had resolved. (a 14 year old girl abducted out of her home in Utah by mormon religious extremist) The Social Worker held up the picture of the man and women who kidnapped elizabeth and asked the kids what they thought of the people and the room of 2nd through 4th graders all thought they looked like nice muslims (the woman had her hair covered and the man a long beard), needless to say they were hardened religious fanatics that committed numerous crimes. We have to be aware, just because people say they are Muslim or look nice, they may not be, and we need to have these discussions with our children.