I See the Sun in Afghanistan by Dedie King, illustrated by Judith Inglese
Looking for an ideal book to use with children about Afghanistan? See Afghanistan and its culture through the eyes of a young girl in this book. Follow her through one day from waking when it is still dark to fetch water. Listen to the sounds she hears, see the chores she does, visit her school, and see how her family is impacted by the war and takes in extended family members. Told in the first person, this book invites readers to see themselves as part of this country with its strong traditions and culture.
Using the device of a first person story told by a child, this book works quite well. It explains many of the small things about life in Afghanistan, leaving the larger issues in the background. While war is definitely a part of the story, this book does not take sides or express political opinions. Rather, this is a book about everyday life and about the impacts of war on one family. The tone is quiet and evocative, using sensory information to create the setting.
Inglese’s illustrations are a mix of painting and collage. This works particularly well with the textiles, allowing the fabrics to really splash. The collages also include occasional photographs which also pop against the browns of the landscape.
I do have two issues with the book. One is the whiteness of the skin of the characters, though this seems more of a stylistic choice than a statement of any kind. It is used in other books in the I See the Sun series. The other is that religion has been removed from the book, which is an odd choice for a book about a culture.
This look at the culture of modern Afghanistan is in picture book form, but will work best for slightly older children. With the dearth of books on this subject for young readers, this would make a good addition to any library collection. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
This is the wrenching tale of Zulaikah, an Afghani girl who lives with a cleft palate that has earned her the nickname of Donkeyface from the bullies in her neighborhood. It is a modern story, set after the defeat of the Taliban. Zulaikah lives with a harsh taskmaster of a stepmother, her beloved older sister, and two younger brothers. Despite her face, she is the one her stepmother sends to the market for supplies, giving the other children a chance to mock her. With the Americans in town, Zulaikah is offered the chance to have her face repaired. She also meets Meena, an old friend of her late mother who offers to teach her to read. These are immense opportunities for her, but will she be allowed to take advantage of them?
Reedy is a debut author who served in Afghanistan with the National Guard. Zulaikah’s story is based on a girl he met in Afghanistan. Reedy has created a marvelous lens for readers to better understand Afghanistan, its culture and its people. The day-to-day life shown here is so very different from our own, that one never forgets that this is a different country. Yet Zulaikah’s hopes and dreams are universal. So this book manages to offer a view of a foreign country at the same time it is showing our united humanity.
Zulaikah is a heroine who has seen unthinkable things, lives with a very visible disability, and yet remains hopeful about the future. She is a girl living in a culture that devalues women and girls, and while she searches for someone to teach her to read, she is not straining against the culture she is a part of. That is a large part of what makes this book so successful. This is a girl who is a product of her family and culture, yet radiant with inner beauty and always hope.
This is a particularly timely book that offers a perspective of modern Afghanistan. It also offers a very human character who will have you viewing news of Afghanistan differently, now with a spirited girl to inspire understanding. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Also reviewed by:
Nasreen’s Secret School: a True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
The author of The Librarian of Basra brings readers another true story from the Middle East. This is the story of Nasreen, a young Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents disappeared. Her grandmother hears about a school for girls which is secret and forbidden. In the hopes of bringing Nasreen out of her silence, her grandmother enrolls her. The girls attending the school must be clever. They must leave alone or in small groups. They must hide their schoolwork if they are inspected by soldiers. Little by little, Nasreen and her classmates learn to read and write. And little by little, Nasreen begins to join this community of women and girls.
Winter’s illustrations are are framed by lines and painted in thick acrylic paints. This gives them the feel of more traditional work, though they depict modern life. Though the situation is complex, Winter manages to tell the story in short sentences. American children will learn of a society where people disappear and girls are not allowed to be educated, all explained at their level of comprehension. Expect lots of questions and discussion after sharing this true story with children.
An important piece of work, this picture book allows children to glimpse another culture that is now intertwined with our American one. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.
Also reviewed by A Year in Reading.