Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Reading Grades 6-12: I Am Malala

Every couple of years the English department decides to take on an "all-school" (6th-12) summer read. This summer, I'm particularly excited to be sharing I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb.


With so much of our international news dominated by the havoc being wreaked by radical Islamists, it feels that a giant veil has been drawn over the Mideast and beyond, obscuring and entrenching our sense of the evil "other." Ms. Yousafzai helps remind us of the good people beyond the headlines.

There are a number of other reasons why this book will be important for our students in the months ahead. First, the book provides a very interesting angle on U.S. foreign policy. Yousafzai and Lamb seem particularly conscious of an American audience and generally only make small inferences and suggestions about U.S. involvement in Pakistan. These remarks often feel artificial, but are just right to provoke thought and discussion with middle and high school students.

Secondly, our students need to understand the Taliban and the complexities of radical Islam. To Yousafzai's credit, she doesn't resort to an excuse common among U.S. politicians that "the terrorists are not Muslims." Yousafzai knows that they are, while speaking passionately against what she sees as their perversion of true Islamic beliefs. She is reverent, honest, and outspoken. She notes that radical Islamic organizations were often the first to step in with humanitarian aid but also vividly shows how the Taliban ultimately advanced its control over large areas by using fear.

Finally, this book is humanizing. Though literarily clunky, brief vignettes about schoolgirl drama and bothersome little brothers help Ms. Yousafzai seem a bit more her age. The book reads in part as a tribute to her father -who serves as both inspiration and comic relief. He is worshiped by his daughter, but also fearful and stubborn.

I was moved to tears by this book. You will be too!

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