“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai
For The Right To Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is a beautifully designed book and a strong introduction to Malala Yousafzai’s story.
The book opens with Malala accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, and then takes us back to her home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The prose outlines Malala’s love of school and the unique opportunity she had as the daughter of Ziauddin Yousafzai, who ran a school that admitted both boys and girls. Langston-George says, “Not all Pakistani children had Malala’s opportunities. Many families couldn’t afford to pay for school. Others only paid for their sons’ educations. Those parents believed daughters should cook and keep house” (5). (However, it certainly isn’t implied that Malala is the only girl whose parents value equal education, and we frequently see images of young women in the classroom.)
One of the most powerful quotes in the book comes from Malala herself. She says, “’If this new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns by the terrorists’” (16). Langston-George describes the various work that Malala and her father Ziauddin did to fight for an equal education for girls – from letter writing to Malala’s blogging for the BBC under the pen name Gul Makai.
As Malala’s influence grew, she was threatened directly by the Taliban. In one of the most powerful spreads of the story, Janna Bock illustrates a defiant Malala. The text reads, “But Malala refused to hide. She would not be silenced” (27). In this spread on the recto (the right page of a double spread), Malala stares straight at the reader – almost daring one to turn the page. (I think it is important that this spread is on the recto – the reader must turn the page and physically move Malala in order to continue.)
Equally compelling as an emotional and illustrative beat is the handling of the assassination attempt on Malala by a Taliban gunman. When a gunman comes for Malala, again we see a single spread on the recto. The text reads, “Three shots shattered the silence” on a white background (31). Below these five words is an upside down book with six or seven drops of blood. We’ve learned throughout the text that Malala will fight not to part with her right to education, and the dropped textbook carries an emotional weight that is heavier than any sort of on-screen violence could be. (Forgive my photos, which do not do either of these spreads justice.)
As Malala recovers, the book brings us full circle to Malala’s Nobel Peace Prize. Again, it’s Malala’s words that carry the most weight. “’One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world’” (37). The book ends with an author’s note with more information and a large photograph of Malala Yousafzai.
That said, one area where I think there is room for a counter discussion, or further exploration for young readers, would be the brief description of the burqa. In introducing the Taliban and their objection to women’s education, Langston-George notes, “[The Taliban] also tried to force women to wear garments called burqas to cover their entire bodies and faces” (9). I fear that young western readers might interpret from the text that any woman they saw in a burqa was being oppressed by the Taliban. When reading with your child, I think it wise to note to the young reader that some Muslim women choose to wear the burqa for myriad reasons. (While a quick google search did not yield a picture book specifically about the burqa, I did find this article that might be a good jumping off point for discussion.)
Ultimately, on closing the book, I was left with a sense of admiration and hopefulness. I also want to note that the book itself is really beautifully made. There’s some really nice details, including end papers with a subtle henna design on gold paper and a darker henna on the edges. This is a reference to Malala’s choice to cover her hands in science formulas, instead of the standard flowers and vines (11).
Multicultural Children’s Book Day
The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.
Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld
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