Award-Winning Books Into the Wild: Artists and Rebels It's Monday What Are You Reading Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Rebel Children Who ‘Wildly’ Fought for their Right to Education in Picturebooks


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.


We are enjoying our new reading theme for September-October that features the wild, the rebels in literature. Today, I am gathering a collection of young and fierce freedom fighters in picturebooks who stood up for justice against a system that disallows them the right to education. A few of these we have already featured in the past, while a few are fairly new ones that we are sharing especially for this theme.

img_6898Steamboat School

Words by: Deborah Hopkinson
Pictures by: Ron Husband
Publisher: Disney Hyperion 2016
ISBN-10: 1423121961
ISBN-13: 9781423121961

The excitement surrounding the publication of the book is well-deserved. Inspired by the life of Reverend John Berry Meachum, Hopkinson has written a lovely tribute to this minister and educator who was ingenious enough to find a way around the unjust laws at the time to continue doing what he is truly passionate about.


Told from the eyes of a fictional young boy named James, Hopkinson captured the spirit of the time (the setting is St. Louis, Missouri, 1847):

I always thought being brave was for grown-up heroes doing big, daring deeds. But Mama says that sometimes courage is just an ordinary boy like me doing a small thing, as small as picking up a pencil.

Who would have thought that picking up a pencil can constitute remarkable strength of character and defiance against unjust laws?


The art is also something else as Ron Husband shows how children had to sneakily and stealthily head down into the darkness of Tallow Candle School – such dismal conditions with only a candle for light and no windows around this makeshift school. But as Reverend John noted:

We make our own light here.

While this picturebook is text-heavy, the book design made it seem manageable as the text is segmented into themes or chunks that almost feel like mini-chapters within the story:


I particularly loved the image above as it shows how these “rebel” children are plotting and planning to do something sneaky: attend school! It is heartbreaking yet uplifting at the same time. This book is a celebration of light that one makes for one’s self and others – the kind that is difficult to put out and continues to shine through time. There is also a detailed Author’s Note at the end alongside a list of resources that students can use eto “explore more.”

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistannasreen

Words and Text by: Jeanette Winter
Publisher: Beach Lane Books, 2009 Book Award: Jane Addams Children’s Book Award for Younger Children (2010)
ISBN-10: 1416994378 ISBN-13: 9781416994374 

Told from the voice of Nasreen’s grandmother, this is a story of fear, loss, quiet defiance, and hope. Nasreen’s father was captured by the Taliban without any explanation. After days and nights of waiting, Nasreen’s mother risked everything to go and look for him. Since then, Nasreen has not spoken a word.


Nasreen’s grandmother felt that one of the ways to cheer her up is to bring her to the secret school for girls. The Author’s Note found at the beginning of the book shared how progressive life was before the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan – how 70% of schoolteachers were women, that 40% of doctors were women and that 50% of students at Kabul University were women.


I also enjoyed how the girls were able to outwit the soldiers who would barge in and conduct an inspection of the premises by pretending to just read the Koran, which was permitted:


I also wondered how the narrative would have changed if told from the perspective of Nasreen rather than her grandmother. I suppose it was also meant to highlight Nasreen’s silence – but it would be interesting to find out what was going on in Jeanette Winter’s mind that made her eventually decide to take on this POV. Once again, Jeanette Winter managed to condense a complex and heartrending story into such a simple yet clear voice of longing and strength.

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an EducationIMG_2533

Written by: Elizabeth Suneby Illustrated by: Suana Verelst
Published by: Citizen Kid, 2013 ISBN: 1554538165 (ISBN13: 9781554538164) Literary Awards: Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Nominee for Younger Children (2014)
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.

I learned about this book through the Monday reading community and I am so glad to find it in our public library.

This book tells the story of young Razia who was so excited to discover that a new school for girls was being built near their home. The minute she found out from her grandfather (Baba Gi) about this new building, she begged him to convince her father (Baba) and older brother (Aziz) to allow her to attend school.


She is envious of her two brothers Jamil and Karim who attend the boys’ school in the next village. She does not let them know that she has actually taught herself to memorize the Dari alphabet, spell her name, and read a few words. And each day, as the school building starts to take shape, with the school doors painted the bright flames of the tandoor, Razia becomes even more anxious as to whether she would be given permission to attend school.


Then one evening, her Baba Gi called for a family meeting (called a jerga) and gave a compelling argument to the men of the household about the need for girls to be educated, and what life had been during his time when women in Afghanistan were educated and held important positions in society. Razia’s eldest brother and Uncle though, feel that Razia should stay at home to help out in the orchards, and so it was decided: “Razia is not going.”


How Razia was able to convince her family to attend school I shall leave for you to discover. This picturebook is based on the real life account of Razia Jan who was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States when she was a young woman. The biographical note found at the end of the book showed that after September 11, 2001, Razia Jan felt the need to connect people from her homeland to her new home in America and she started Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation which aims “to improve the lives of women and children in Afghanistan through education.”

Here is a short video clip of Razia Jan’s amazing journey that I found on Youtube. Truly very inspiring. Shows how undaunted women can be in changing the face of society. Fearless, phenomenal women, Razia Jan and Louisa May.

IMG_9195Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery

Written and Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter
Published byBeach Lane Books, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

Jeanette Winter is known for her picturebook biographies. I am glad that she has directed her gaze to this young woman whose life story told in very accessible picturebook format would hopefully prove to be an inspiration to many young readers. Much too often, children are asked to read about ancient people or those who have died centuries before. It is a refreshing change to find someone so contemporary, so determined, so young and driven by a cause much bigger than one’s self.

The book begins with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore:

Let us not pray to be sheltered from danger, but to be fearless when facing them.

There are essentially two books in one here, as the reader is invited to flip the book over to see Iqbal’s story. Given our reading theme, I would just be focusing on Malala’s narrative.


From the first opening, as you can see above, the book moves pretty fast with the Taliban demanding to find Malala, presumably to hurt her. Then the story backtracks a bit in the following pages to provide the context, situating the story within Swat Valley in Pakistan where the girls are prohibited to read and go to school.


I like how Winter uses very clear, straightforward fonts, and changed their colour to highlight Malala’s voice and her commitment to speak up and claim her right of education. I also just recently bought I am Malala (by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb) which I hope to read this year. This is a book that needs to be part of all classroom libraries.


Past Reviews by Fats (oooh… alliterative)

nfpb0601bMalala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Words by: Karen Leggett Abouraya
Pictures by: L.C. Wheatley
Publisher: Star Walk Kids Media (2014)
ISBN-10: 1630833169
ISBN-13: 978-1630833169

This beautifully illustrated picturebook biography of Malala Yousafzai emphasizes the power of words and the courage one may find in it. Author-journalist Karen Leggett Abouraya dedicated the book to her mother for her unshakable dedication to education. Karen was past President of the Children’s Book Guild in Washington, D.C.


The book begins with a short description of Malala as someone who stood up in front of the world and made her voice heard. She is a miracle in pink. She is a warrior with words.

“We will bring change through our voice,” she said. She asked every nation to make it possible for every child to go to school for free.

Every child.
Every country.
Free school.


Malala was named after Malala of Maiwand, a brave woman who proved that the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. Malala of Maiwand used poetry to save her village from invaders more than a century ago. Through brief and concise statements, the book narrates the story of not just Malala but also of her village in the Swat Valley before, during, and after the Taliban’s rise to power.

“We have some people who are afraid of ghosts and some people who are afraid of spiders, and in Swat we were afraid of humans like us.”

Raised by her father who worked as a school principal, Malala believed in education as a basic human right. She understood the power of words, so she volunteered to write on a blog sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) to tell the world about the dark times in Pakistan and its continued fight for education.

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words uses simple words and beautiful collage art to bring Malala’s story to life that can be easily understood by young readers. This book targets children ages 8-11 years old. The book also offers additional information on the subjects of Pakistan and eduation:

  • Benazir Bhutto
  • Rise of the Taliban
  • Resources on Pakistan
  • The Malala Fund
  • School Girls Unite
  • Global Campaign for Education

nfpb0601eFor the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

Words by: Rebecca Langston-George
Pictures by: Janna Bock
Publisher: Capstone Young Readers (2015)
ISBN-10: 162370426X
ISBN-13: 978-1623704261

Malala Yousafzai’s life is truly remarkable. For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is a perfect companion to Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words. Rebecca Langston-George collaborated with Janna Bock to paint a detailed picture of Malala Yousafzai, her life and struggles as a Pakistani girl who fought for education.

“This award is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”

Malala Yousafzai had become the voice for equal education.


Although the target audience for this picturebook biography is the same as that of Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words (kids ages 8-11 years old), there is an abundance of information that you can find in For the Right to Learn. This book is basically an elaboration of Warrior with Words. One of my favorite parts in the book was portrayed in the image above, accompanied by these words:

[Malala] was more determined than ever to succeed at school. Over the school holidays most Pakistani women used henna to paint flowers and vines on their hands. Malala covered her hands with science formulas.


Janna Bock’s illustrations are gorgeous. The book photos I took do not give them justice. For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is a great mentor text about courage and education. It’s perfect for helping children learn about Malala Yousafzai, the struggles of Pakistani women, and the fight for equal education.


Like Malala, there are a lot of non-profit organizations that promote and fight for education. I have included a few of these. Check out the links below:

  1. Pencils of Promise — a global community that believes everyone deserves access to quality education.
  2. Asante Africa Foundation — an organization that educates East Africa’s youth to confidently address life’s challenges, thrive in the global economy, and catalyze positive change.
  3. Asha for Education — helps empower underprivileged children in India by providing access to education.
  4. 7 Inspiring Literacy and Education Nonprofits — list provided by GoodNet.
  5. 50 Nonprofits Making a World of Difference — list provided by Matador Network.


There are a lot of videos featuring Malala Yousafzai — speeches and interviews — that you can find online. What I’m sharing below is a video of Ziadduin Yousafzai who talked about his daughter, Malala, in TED Talks.

10 comments on “[Monday Reading] Rebel Children Who ‘Wildly’ Fought for their Right to Education in Picturebooks

  1. I’ve read them all except The Right To Learn, that final one, Myra. Each should be in every classroom for students to see how fortunate they are to have their wonderful schools. Will find the one! Thanks!


  2. Great collection! The first one is new to me, and the others are so important. I have a few more you haven’t mentioned in my post on The Power of Girls and Schools:


  3. I love reading stories about people who value the importance of education. Teachers need to be respected again for the incredible work they do.


  4. I especially appreciated your theme today. The very notion that education can be denied to people is so foreign to many of us. Malala and her father are remarkable individuals.I agree with Earl before me that teachers must be respected for the work they do. We also need to acknowledge the important role of public education. I worry very much that there is a movement here in North America to eliminate it.


  5. LOVE Steamboat School, but the rest are new to me. Great theme this week!


  6. I love the way you curated this list, Myra – important and inspiring books!


  7. Such a wonderful list of books! We agree with Tara – important and inspiring books!


  8. This is a great roundup of books, and I’ll definitely be looking for several of them. I loved Steamboat School. I shared it with my students the first week of school. Have a great week!


  9. crbrunelle

    What an excellent list! Thanks for sharing so many wonderful titles. I may make a display with these books sometime in the near future.


  10. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Writing Home and Writing Peace Using “Malala’s Magic Pencil” – Gathering Books

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