Kirkus wrote about the book in my 7-Imp spotlight this morning that it’s a story that “must be shouted from the rooftops” (and that this book helps lead the chorus). So, consider this my barbaric yawp today, even if I’m over one year late in writing about it. Yup, this was released in October of last year, I believe. This comes from the better-late-than-never 7-Imp files. But post about it I shall, since I’m not only a fan of Jeanette Winter’s books and will happily post her art at any time, but I also found this one to be quite poignant and beautifully-told.
Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan (a Global Fund for Children book, published by Beach Lane Books) tells the story of a young girl who lives in an ancient city in Afghanistan, where art and music and learning once fluorished — but no longer do. She lives with her mother and grandmother, and it’s the latter who tells readers this story: “The Taliban soldiers don’t want girls to learn about the world, the way Nasreen’s mama and I learned when we were girls.” Nasreen’s father is taken by soldiers one night, with no explanation, and Nasreen’s mother disguises herself in order to go search for him. Thus begins Nasreen’s hush, as she disappears into a world of worry and silence. “I knew I had to do something,” says her grandmother.
Having heard whispers about a secret school, Nasreen’s grandmother slips quietly down the streets with her granddaughter, crosses the courtyard to the school, and enters a private house filled with girls. “Please Allah, open her eyes to the world,” the grandmother prays, as she leaves Nasreen there. Nasreen doesn’t speak to the other girls and continues her silence at home.
But, eventually, she makes a friend and learns to open up:
Jeanette’s illustrations are powerful and moving: Writes Kirkus, “Winter poignantly captures both the stronghold of the Taliban and a fervent sense of hope. Tight frames around the illustrations—one of the artists’s trademarks—hold back bright patterns and bold hues, remarkably displaying that same tension in text and art.” Adds Booklist, “in her signature style of deceptively simple compositions and rich, opaque colors, Winter’s acrylic paintings give a palpable sense of both Nasreen’s everyday terror and the expansive joy that she finds in learning.”
This is a compelling book that makes oft-heard stories in the news very real and cogent for child readers — and which celebrates the value of education (“and the reminder to Western children that it is a privilege worth fighting for,” writes the Horn Book review).
Not to be missed, even if you’re one year late getting to it, as I am.
NASREEN’S SECRET SCHOOL: A TRUE STORY FROM AFGHANISTAN. Copyright © 2009 Jeanette Winter. Published by Beach Lane Books, New York.