Despite being only 16 years old, Malala Yousafzai has won many prizes around the world for her activism in the fight for girls’ education and women’s rights before the Taliban’s attempt to silence her in October 2012. Malala survived their attack and went on to win even more accolades, including Pakistan’s Youth Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize, awarded for leadership in human rights and freedom of thought and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2013. Together with Christina Lamb, she wrote this memoir about her life, the history of the Swat Valley and her time living under the Taliban.
I have a student that patiently waited for me to buy this book and catalog it so that she could check it out. She came to my library to return the book last week but said that she actually didn’t want to return it. She wanted to just keep it, because she was moving to another town over spring break and wanted to keep reading the book. She is a very sweet girl who has read every book with Muslim characters in my library. I was really touched by the way she connected with the book. It inspired me to delete it from our collection (I will replace it) and just give it to her. She hugged the book and me. It was totally worth it.
Here is what she and I both saw in this book.
This book is as much a story of Malala’s fight for girl’s education as it is as a history of the Swat Valley, an introduction to her Pashtun culture, the story of how the Taliban entered and affected the Swat Valley and all of its inhabitants, and the conflict the Swat Valley’s residents felt about the Pakistan Army’s fight against the Taliban. It’s a fascinating insider’s perspective into current events and an area of the world few in the United States have seen.
Malala is a straight A student, the daughter of her school’s founder. She loves studying and treasures her school books. From the outset of the book, you see that Malala will follow in her father’s footsteps as an activist. Her father is an outspoken advocate for education, specifically girls’ education and bringing peace to the Swat Valley. It is no surprise that we learn that Malala began anonymously writing a blog for the BBC about life under the Taliban when she was just 11. She then begins speaking in public about her belief that girls should be educated and her insistence that the Pakistani government use some of the billions of dollars received in aid from the United States to rebuild schools destroyed by the Taliban. All her public appearances as well as her father’s bring her to the attention of the Taliban. Both Malala and her father receive death threats from the Taliban. This only steels Malala to bravely continue her advocacy.
I was fascinated by this book as was my student. The pictures in the book help the reader connect with Malala on a more personal level. I would recommend this to middle and high school readers.
My male students who are into sports are very particular about their sports, it’s either football, basketball or baseball. It is not a blend. So, what do I give students who want to read nothing but sports books and Sports Illustrated? I had a suspicion that I could pull them in with Mike Lupica’s books, and am happy to tell you that I have kids, many of them reluctant readers, grabbing his books off the shelves.
Mike Lupica is a syndicated sports writer for the New York Daily News. Most importantly, he writes realistic fiction about football, basketball and baseball. This is realistic fiction that has my tween and middle school boys excited about reading. I think these books could easily reach high school age students too.
Stargirl is magical, just like Stargirl herself. What happens when you meet someone completely different — someone who does things that no one would ever do, things that draw a lot of attention. What if that someone doesn’t even care that they’re different? Would you have the courage to be that person’s friend? I loved this book and so did my students.
Leo Burlock is in high school. He’s just like any other kid. He’s kind of popular, a nice guy. But, when a new girl, Stargirl, arrives at school, she changes things for him and for everyone. She brings her ukelele to the cafeteria and serenades people on their birthdays. She sits down in class and puts a curtain and a vase of flowers on her desk. She joins the cheerleading squad and cheers for both teams. Stargirl’s complete innocence catches him by surprise and makes him fall in love with her. For a time, the entire student body falls in love with her too. But, then, Stargirl makes a big mistake, and the penalty is huge. She is shunned by the entire school, and Leo, as her boyfriend, is shunned too. “And the shunning — it was clear now — had come to me. It was less absolute for me than for her, but it was there. I saw it in the eyes that shifted away from mine, the shoulders that turned, the chatter that seemed less loud around me now than before. I fought it. I tested its limits. In the courtyard, between classes, in the lunchroom, I called out to others just to see if they would respond. When someone turned and nodded, I felt grateful.” In desperation, Leo asks Stargirl to change, to be normal. “She constantly quizzed me about what other kids would do, would buy, would think.” Stargirl does her best to change for Leo. “In our minds we tried to pin her to a corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.”
Moving from the recruitment of Robert Oppenheimer to the building of Los Alamos to the testing of the bombs and Hiroshima and the eventual arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, this excellent non-fiction book cleverly interweaves three story lines. The first is the Americans’ attempt to build the atomic bomb. The second is the Soviets’ attempt to steal the plans for the bomb. The third is an attack on Germany’s heavy water plants in an attempt to prevent Hitler from building an atomic bomb. Full of material that illuminates a period of history few middle school and high school students may be familiar with, this engaging read will keep them interested. I’ve also recommended it to adults, because it provides real insight into the scientists that built the bomb, their motivations for building it and the motivations of some scientists to ensure that the United States wasn’t the only country in the world with this most powerful weapon. Photographs are included.