Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala
When Malala Yousafzai was born, people shook their heads because girls were considered bad luck. But her father looked into her eyes and knew she could do anything.
In Pakistan, people said girls should not be educated. But Malala and her father were not afraid. She secretly went to school and spoke up for education in her country.
And even though an enemy tried to silence her powerful voice, she would not keep quiet. Malala traveled around the world to speak to girls and boys, to teachers, reporters, presidents, and queens—to anyone who would listen—and advocated for the right to education and equality of opportunity for every person. She would shout so that those without a voice could be heard. So everyone could be as free as a bird.
Free as a Bird is the inspiring true story of a fearless girl and the father who taught her to soar.
Having read I am Malala (the adult version of Malala Yousafzai’s memoir), I was eager to share a more age-appropriate version of her life’s story with my 7 and 9-year-old. Not only has she become a figurehead for promoting children’s education, but her well-spoken calmness and determination make her an ideal potential role model. My biggest concern was how a children’s picture book would handle and convey the biggest turning point in her activism: The violent and abhorrent assassination attempt against her by the Taliban.
Different children, of course, all have different tolerances and comprehension levels. This author erred on the side of caution, using a sort of fade-to-black method on the ominous pages that depict violence. Readers are simply told that Malala “slept.” Many young readers may want more explanation, but that is left for parents to fill in however they choose.
The book itself never uses the word “Taliban,” instead opting to refer to the forces opposing female education only as “the enemy.” The impression given is nebulous—a nameless, faceless shadow. I didn’t care for this approach, and in reading it to my children, chose to add in an explanation of the true name and origin of Malala’s attackers. (To be fair, a more clear and complete explanation is given at the back of the book, in the Author’s Note.) As the Author’s Note is also much more specific about the attack—plainly informing readers that Malala was shot in the head—parents may want to consider researching the type of head injury Malala sustained ahead of time, in case their children are (like mine) confused over how such a wound could be survivable.
While the book is simplified non-fiction, it still deftly captures a sense of childhood wonder. The artwork is distinct and vibrant—accenting the shifting emotional tones throughout, and paying candid tribute to Pakistani culture and tradition. It also conveys a subtle sense of dread over a difficult topic that most of its target audience is largely unaware of.
All in all, Free As A Bird has tremendous potential as an introductory educational tool and a gentle conversation starter. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.