Before studying abroad in the Middle East and then teaching its history, I was daunted by this area of the world. I think many, if not most, Americans are. Once I lived there for a time, my love for and interest in the Middle East has grown enormously, and the countries of that region are now my favorite to study. Just ask my teacher friends on the World team: when our Middle East unit came up, I was brimming with ideas and was always attempting to extend our time studying it! I'm sure it got a bit annoying.
Enter: "I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" (by Malala Yousafzai). It is the story of a brave teenage girl who is forced to leave her school when the Taliban takes control of her home. Her father, an amazing man, helps her find her voice to stand up, and in the end she is shot in the head for it. The story details her childhood, her decision to speak out, the shooting, and the aftermath. When I taught World Civ, I kept a magazine cut-out of Malala next to my desk, with this quote: “When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is.”
There were days as a teacher when I felt in the trenches and didn't know what I was doing it all for—the endless grading, parent interfacing, deadlines, and curriculum development. But when I felt that treadmill kick in, I'd look over at the picture and remember that education is a gift. And there are many, many people in the world who would do almost anything (including being shot) to learn in a school environment. Malala's face next to my desk acted as a reframing mechanism for me. She kept things in perspective.
This book puts education in a bright light. If you yourself are in school and currently dreading class, or are a parent with kids who are losing interest and whining constantly about having to go to school, I recommend this book. Not so that it guilts you into begrudgingly liking school (ha!), but rather to add some depth of perspective on the hard days.
Likewise, if you are looking for a simple introduction to Pakistan, the issues surrounding the Taliban, and are interested in women's rights, this book is a good start. She gives cultural insights into women's rights in Pakistan, home life, the religion of Islam, and the general culture of her valley. I felt like I walked away from the book getting an insider's peek into an area that is not very well known. Not only was I empowered by her story, but I also felt more culturally aware and open-minded.
This book was published in 2013, so obviously the area has changed in the past few years. However, it gives a good starting point for further study and will help you feel a little more knowledgable without being textbookish. There is also a Young Readers edition of the book, as well as many spin-offs for little kids!
I wouldn't say "I Am Malala" has stunning prose or exceptional writing, but it is moving. It moved me to be a little more bold and compassionate. Her story is definitely worth your time.