Did you hear about Malala Yousafzai?
Malala was a teenager living in Pakistan under Taliban rule, when she was shot in the head by a Taliban soldier one day on her way home from school—all because they didn't like that she was an advocate for women's education. And we've got a hunch that Taliban probably wouldn't like Deborah Ellis either.
Deborah Ellis is from Canada, and is a counselor and writer; but most notably, she is an activist for women and for peace. In 1996, she visited Afghanistan to visit with women after hearing about their mistreatment under the Taliban, and during her visit, she heard of a girl who pretended to a boy in order to support her family.
Ellis decided to turn this story into a book.
The Breadwinner (2001) is about eleven-year-old Parvana, a girl who pretends she is a boy in order to earn money for her family while her father is in prison. But more generally, it's a book about the horrific living conditions of the Afghan people under Taliban rule, with a particular concern for the intensely cruel treatment of women.
Ellis interviewed children and refuges from Afghanistan to make this book as true to life as possible. It is the first in a series of four books about Parvana's life—followed by Parvana's Journey, Mud City, and My Name is Parvana—and the series as a whole won both the Peter Pan Prize and the Middle East Book Award. In other words, Ellis hasn't just written a bunch of books about life in Afghanistan—she's done a very authentic job.
And while we're all for borrowing books from your local library (libraries are awesome), this is one book you just might want to purchase. You know why? Because Ellis donates proceeds from her books to help the people she writes about—and in the case of The Breadwinner series, this means she's donated over a million dollars to organizations dedicated to helping women and children in Afghanistan.
It's not very often that you can help change the world just by reading a book, and we're all about seizing that chance.
Why Should I Care?
The Breadwinner takes us inside the mind of Parvana, an eleven-year-old Afghani girl who is living under the Taliban's control. All of Parvana's basic freedoms have been stripped away. We're talking no school, no identity, and definitely no funny YouTube videos—and then her dad is taken away too. And while Parvana learns all sort of lessons, in addition to encountering more hardships than any kid should, one of the most important things she realizes is that at least some members of the Taliban are just as vulnerable and sensitive as she is.
The thing about this eureka moment of Parvana's is that it's relevant to every single one of us, no matter where we live or what we think about other people. We all make assumptions from time to time, but this book serves up a powerful reminder that even dudes with the toughest, nastiest exteriors still may have some secret soft spots.
It's a book about good and evil, for sure, but it's also about the gray areas we all have inside us.