I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, 11-year-old Parvana has rarely been outdoors. Barred from attending school, shopping at the market, or even playing in the streets of Kabul, the heroine of Deborah Ellis's engrossing children's novel The Breadwinner is trapped inside her family's one-room home. That is, until the Taliban hauls away her father and Parvana realizes that it's up to her to become the "breadwinner" and disguise herself as a boy to support her mother, two sisters, and baby brother. Set in the early years of the Taliban regime, this topical novel for middle readers explores the harsh realities of life for girls and women in modern-day Afghanistan. (source)
I was asked to read this book for my Resources for Children class this week. I don't think I had ever heard of it before, but it seems to be fairly well-known. It covers a hot topic - that of the status of women in Afghanistan under the regime of the Taliban. I felt that this book was extremely eye-opening, not only for children but also for adult readers, such as myself, who may not be very well-informed about the current situation in that part of the world.
Ellis tells her story through the eyes of an 11 year old girl named Parvana. Parvana must disguise herself as a boy in order to support her family after the Taliban arrests her father. Prior to reading this, I knew very little about how bad things really were in Afghanistan. I knew that women were treated as second-class citizens and that education was very minimal, but I had no idea of the extent of the discrimination against them. For example, I didn't realize that wearing a burqa in public wasn't a choice influenced by religious beliefs, but rather a requirement forced upon women by the Taliban. I had not realized just how extensive the destruction of Afghanistan by bombs and war truly was. I've read a few books about modern-day Afghanistan before, such as The Kite Runner, but for some reason this book in particular really hit home with me.
This book is probably appropriate for a middle school audience as far as content goes, but the writing is more basic, I would estimate at a 4th or 5th grade reading level. This is definitely not a challenging book to read in terms of difficulty of the text, but the content could be very graphic at times. There was one point when the Taliban was punishing thieves that was particularly violent. I found this level of detail to be a bit surprising in a children's book, even one meant for an older audience, but I do think that this is a topic that more Americans need to be made aware of. I think that we tend to take for granted how generally peaceful we have it here. Just thinking in terms of yesterday's election - I know that many of my family members were not happy with the election of our new governor (we live in PA) because they disagree with his stance on some moral issues, but no matter how much we as a nation might disagree with some of the politicians here, in truth, NONE of our politicians are anywhere near as bad as those in other parts of the world. We have it pretty good, and I think that a lot of times we as a nation forget that. Books like these serve as a great reminder that we have a lot to be grateful for.
This is not a book that I'm likely to read again. There were some parts that dragged and, to be honest, it just didn't grab my attention. But I think that this is an important text that helps to open the reader's worldview, making them more aware of conditions in a country that has really been torn apart. I intend to pass this book on to my mom, who is an ESL teacher, as I think this could be really useful in her classroom. It's easy enough that many of her students could read it, but is still mentally stimulating - and, given some of her students' personal backgrounds, I think that a class discussion of this book could be very engaging. I'd recommend this to both adults and children who want to expand their knowledge about the global community, particularly that of Afghanistan.