About the Holiday
In the aftermath of World War II the Four Freedoms that had guided the Allies—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear—did not go far enough in defining the areas that need to be covered. In December 1948 the United Nations General Assembly put forth 30 articles to further delineate the freedoms and rights of the world’s citizens, including the freedom of education, thought, health, opinion, and expression as well as the right to take part in government, have a free choice of employment, and more. To honor today’s observance, speak out when you see inequality and work to bring freedom in all it’s forms to everyone.
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story
Written by Rebecca Langston-George | Illustrated by Janna Bock
Malala Yousafzai lived in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where her father, Ziauddin, ran a school in the town of Mingora. Malala loved school and even when she was tiny visited classes with her father often. Not all Pakistani children could go to school—some families couldn’t afford it and some believed girls should stay home to clean, cook, and keep house. But Malala’s father believed his daughter had the same right to an education as his sons. Malala thrived at school. She learned multiple languages and won many academic awards.
“But Taliban leaders who controlled the area were against letting girls go to school. They declared that females should be separated from males. They wanted to outlaw education for girls.” The Taliban leaders even tried to intimidate Malala’s father. “One ordered Ziauddin to close his school because girls and boys used the same entrance.” Ziauddin refused.
While her father was worried, Malala’s determination grew stronger. She studied harder at school, and during the school holidays instead of covering her hands with henna flowers and vines as most Pakistani women did, Malala painted science formulas on hers. The Taliban continued to exert a tight grip on the Swat Valley, and instituted new rules: men could not shave, women had to cover their faces, movies were banned. And the radio “crackled with the sound of the Taliban preaching: No education for girls! Girls who attend school bring shame to their families!”
The Taliban frightened many, and empty seats in school classrooms began to be more frequent. Ziauddan and Malala appeared on TV to express the importance of education. In response the Taliban threatened Ziauddan and his school. Despite the threats Malala and her father continued to speak and write, “demanding equal education for girls.” The Taliban began patrolling the streets, perpetrating violence and destruction on anyone who didn’t obey their rules.
In December 2008, the Taliban announced that all girls’ schools would close by January 15. “Even before the deadline, bombs started to rain down on nearby schools as warnings.” The British Broadcasting Corporation wanted to reveal to the world what was happening. They wanted a girl to write a blog about her experience and “how it felt to be denied an education. Malala volunteered.
She took the pen name Gul Makai and related her blog by phone to a reporter who typed and published her words for two months. The first post appeared on January 3, 2009. On January 14 Malala wrote: “‘They can stop us from going to school, but they can’t stop us learning!’” Because activists were growing angry, the Taliban let girls ages 10 and younger go to school. Malala and her friends were 11. They began dressing to look younger and hid school books in their clothes. If they had been caught lying about their ages, they and their teachers could have been beaten or executed.
In May 2009 the Pakistani army began battling the Taliban and ordered everyone to evacuate. Malala and her family had to pack their belongings and leave. Malala wanted to take her books along, but there wasn’t room. She could only hope that they—and her home—would survive the fighting. Three months later, the people of Mingora were allowed to come home, but the town was not the same as they had left it. Shops and buildings were destroyed, burned frames of cars were strewn across the roads. The school’s walls were riddle with bullet holes. But the Taliban was gone. Ziauddin reopened his school for boys and girls.
While Malala returned to school, her life was not the same. Because of her blog, speeches, and interviews, she was internationally famous. Everyone wanted to hear what she had to say—everyone but the Taliban. “Talban leaders began to threaten her on the Internet. Saying she was working for the West, they announced Malala was on their hit list. The police warned the Yousafzai family to leave, but Malala refused to hide. She refused to be silenced.”
Because of the danger, Malala’s mother wanted her to ride the bus to school instead of walk. On October 9, 2012 as Malala and her classmates rode the bus home after school, the bus was stopped and a man boarded, demanding to know which girl was Malala. While no one spoke, the girls couldn’t stop their eyes from flashing quickly toward Malala. That was all the man needed. He “pointed a gun at Malala. Three shots shattered the silence.”
The bus driver rushed Malala and two of her friends to the hospital. Word spread quickly about the shooting through the town and around the world. Malala lay unconscious for days as the Taliban threatened her again should she live. As determinedly as Malala fought for equal education, she fought for survival. Finally, she was flown to a hospital in England for more surgery and to keep her safe. Gifts and wished poured in from all over the world. Malala stayed in the hospital for three months and underwent many procedures to correct the damage done by the Taliban’s bullets.
When she had recovered, Malala returned to her family and to her place on the world stage where she continues to speak out for the rights of all. On July 12, 2013 in a speech at the United Nations, Malala “declared, ‘One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.’” On December 10, 2014 Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her “strength, power, and courage” to “lift her voice for children everywhere.”
Malala. Those three syllables have become synonymous with bravery, freedom, and education. Rebecca Langston-George tells Malala’s remarkable story with the same unstinting vision that fuels Malala’s mission. Told sensitively, but candidly, this compelling biography reveals the harrowing evolution of the Taliban’s reach that, far from intimidating young Malala, only served to make her more determined. Langston-George’s excellent command over her well-chosen details and gripping pacing enhances the power of this important true story. Readers should come away inspired—not only by Malala’s life, but the fact that they too can make a difference.
Janna Bock depicts the changing landscape of Malala’s hometown both physically and philosophically with illustrations that help readers clearly envision and understand Malala’s life and environment. The faces of the townspeople and the Yousefzai family register distress and fear, but also determination, courage, and optimism as schools close, Mingora comes under fire, and the citizens become refugees. Malala’s shooting, and recovery are portrayed with thoughtful consideration of the readers, and the ending takes children inside the United Nations to witness Malala’s ultimate triumph.
An Author’s Note detailing more about Malala’s story then and now as well as a glossary and index follow the text.
For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is an important biography of current events and people shaping the world and our children’s future and is a must read for all.
Ages 8 – 12
Capstone Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1623704261
Discover more fascinating books by Rebecca Langston-George on her website!
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Universal Human Rights Month Activity
Friends of the World Coloring Page
Love and understanding for others makes the world a smaller—and better—place. Have fun coloring this Friends of the World Coloring Page!
Picture Book Review