#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Award-Winning Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] How To Defy the Taliban And Become a World-Class Female Squash Player

Let Maria Toorpakai Wazir lead the way.

Myra here.

We are delighted to dedicate our Wednesdays to featuring nonfiction titles, as per usual. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading theme throughout the year, when we can.

This year, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

A Girl Called Genghis Khan (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Michelle Lord Illustrated by Shehzil Malik
Published by Union Square Kids (2019) ISBN: 1454931361 (ISBN13: 9781454931362). Borrowed via Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Maria is not like other girls who grew up in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, once called by President Obama as one of “the most dangerous place in the world” as found in the Author’s Afterword.

She preferred the rough-and-tumble play of boys as compared to dolls and making naan with her Mother. Minor infractions by girls and women such as wearing clothing that is considered inappropriate or even playing sports outdoors – can lead to potential bodily harm and violence.

Maria was fortunate that she belonged to a family who saw her and risked everything to afford her the privileges that only boys in their community have. If girls are not permitted to play outdoors, then Maria’s parents transformed her into this short-haired mischievous child named Genghis.

It was not long after this transformation that Maria / Genghis discovered sports, specifically her skill and passion for squash. However, this meant that Maria had to reveal the truth that she isn’t Genghis, the boy, but Maria Toorpakai Wazir, the young girl who happens to be an exceptional athlete.

This is the first book I have read that is illustrated by Pakistani artist, Shehzil Malik, and I found the art compelling. While I think it would have been better if there was a note in the Afterword indicating whether the hand-written typography in the book are direct quotes from Maria Wazir herself, I appreciated the additional reading materials and bibliography at the end of the book, including a list of “female firsts in sports.”

While Wazir’s story is one of endurance, perseverance, grit and determination that eventually earned her international accolade and being appointed to the International Olympic Committee’s Women in Sport commission – I also think about other young girls from similar societies and circumstances who are not fortunate enough to have parents like Maria’s who are resolved to provide this young athlete all the support that she needs. It makes me reflect on systemic structures that need to be put in place to institutionalize these kinds of support so that more young women are free to grow into everything that they are meant to become. Evidently, we need to do more as a society.


#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 3 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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