Monday, October 13, 2014

Swept Up in History’s Whirlwind: Malala and Iqbal

 In the 1999 book Through My Eyes, Ruby Bridges—now an adult—wrote the following:

When I was six years old, the civil rights movement came knocking at my door. It was 1960 and history pushed in and swept me up in a whirlwind. [Italics added]

Now we have another powerful example of children being swept up in history’s whirlwind. This time it is Malala Yousafzai and Iqbal Masih, two children from Pakistan. Their powerful stories are gripping examples of courage and bravery in the face of unjust circumstances. These stories are now available to young children in Jeanette Winter’s new book, Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan.

This book features two children who spoke out against the unjust treatment they were receiving. They defied those who wanted to deny them their basic rights as children. Both received threats to their lives, and yet they continued to speak out. Both were shot. One died and the other, though seriously wounded lived and continues to speak out against injustice. This book tells the gripping stories of these two children—Malala and Iqbal.

Malala wanted her education. When Taliban fighters insisted that girls should not go to school, she insisted on her right to an education. Again and again, she resisted the Taliban—even as threats turned into deeds and schools were burned and bombed. For speaking out, she was shot, but lived to tell her story to the world. Most recently Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

Iqbal wanted to be free, not forced to work each day in a carpet factory, chained to a loom. Yet at the age of four, when his parents took a twelve-dollar loan from the owner of a carpet factory, he was forced to work all day long to repay this money. It wasn’t until he was ten-years-old that he learned that bonded slavery of children was illegal. At that time he began to speak out against bonded labor, despite the threats he received. He spoke in carpet factories in Pakistan and even took his message to America. Because he spoke out, he was shot and killed while riding his bicycle in Pakistan.

This book tells both children’s inspiring stories. Readers see the power of bravery over injustice—how two children stood up to threats and violence to assert their rights. They are stories to remember. But there is more at work here: These stories also remind us that all our lives are shaped by the times in which we live.

When discussing stories like Malala and Iqbal’s, we have the opportunity to discuss the impact of historical context, something we should not lose sight of when discussing informational text. Here are two interesting questions to pursue:
1.     How were Malala and Iqbal swept up in history’s whirlwind?
2.     How have they affected history?


  1. These two books would also complement Winter's previous books Nasreen's Secret School, about life under the Taliban, and The Librarian of Basra, set during the Coalition bombing of Iraq in April, 2003. In these cases, children and their agency are not central. Nasreen is aided by her grandmother, while Alia Muhammed Baker, the librarian, is an adult acting independently. But they would be a wonderful collection of books to older students to explore in consideration of writer's craft. Winter's Mama was in response to the 2005 tsunami, and the aforementioned books are all responses to lived current events. Students can see the historical context that you write about Myra, but also how we are all impacted by the world around us and can choose to take action. One form of activism is bringing stories to light for the world to read about.

  2. These are wonderful suggestions, Mary Ann. Many, maybe all of Jeanette Winter's books are about agency. Those interested should check out BIBLIOBURRO, MR. CORNELL's BOXES, and HENRI'S SCISSORS--all by this author. I like the idea of enlarging our idea of agency.