Winter, J. (2009). Nasreen's Secret School: A true story from Afghanistan. New York: Beach Lane Books.
Appetizer: Told in the voice of Nasreen's grandmother, this picturebook is based on the true experience of one of the many young girls who disobeyed the Taliban by attending a secret school while they were in power in Afghanistan.
I thought it was a very unusual and interesting choice to narrate the story from the point of view of Nasreen's grandmother. Since Nasreen is still very much the focus of the plot, I kids will still be willing to read or listen to the book. But at the same time, part of the point of the story is for Nasreen to find her voice and "speak again" and because she's not the actual narrator, she's kinda-sorta denied a voice in her own story.
Am I being too picky?
Let me play devil's advocate then. The start of the story also reveals how Nasreen's father was taken away by the Taliban and how her mother broke the law by going in search of him. I suppose an argument could be made that Nasreen's character was in too dark of a place to narrate her story. Yes? Maybe? Am I reaching?
I really liked the colorful illustrations. Each one was contained in a frame and almost all of the pictures included patterns of dots or other shapes.
My one critique is that the story just kind of ends....
Sure, Nasreen seems to have gotten through the worst of her mourning and has begun to speak again. But as readers, we never find out what happens to Nasreen's parents. (Although, one illustration could be used to imply that her parents are in heaven looking down on her.) We also never find out if Nasreen would be able to continue her education. Young readers may want to imagine what would happen to Nasreen after the story ends. A teacher could let them act out some of the possibilities.
The book is published by and includes information about The Global Fund for Children. There is also a facebook fan page for the book, but the majority of the content is links to other reviews.
"My granddaughter, Nasreen, lives with me in Herat, an ancient city in Afghanistan.
Art and music and learning once flourished here.
Then the soldiers came and changed everything."
"Poor Nasreen sat at home all day,
because girls are forbidden to attend school.
The taliban soldiers don't want girls to learn about the world"
"I heard whispers about a school--
a secret school for girls--
behind a green gate in a nearby lane.
I wanted Nasreen to attend this secret school.
I wanted her to learn about the world, as I had.
I wanted her to speak again."
"Nasreen no longer feels alone.
The knowledge she holds inside
will always be with her,
like a good friend."
To Go with the Meal:
While this picturebook is an excellent window into a girl's experience under the Taliban rule, it can also serve as a mirror for children who feel like they have lost a loved one. As Nasreen continues to attend school, she slowly makes a friend, shares about losing her parents and begins to smile again.
In terms of assignments to go with the book, students could write or talk reflectively about how it would feel to be denied an education (a teacher should also be ready to debate with those two or three children who will undoubtably think never being allowed to go to school is the coolest thing ever).
A teacher could also focus on how important education is. In the story, knowledge is described as being a friend and clearly Nasreen's imagination blooms as she learns.
Tasty Rating: !!!