“The girl stretched her arm, her large belly getting in the way. From the girl’s young age, Malala guessed it was her first child and she hadn’t been married long.” page 3
She Dared: Malala Yousafzai by Jenni L. Walsh. Scholastic, New York, 2019. Elementary/MG biography, 120 pages. Lexile: not leveled AR Level: 5.0 (worth 2.0 points) .
A highly problematic youth biography of Malala Yousafzai.
It’s rare that by the third chapter of a children’s book I’m continuing to read only for due diligence. I tend to avoid or delay negative reviews – it’s more fun to write about wonderful books, or try to analyze the ones I feel lukewarm about. Since leaving daily school librarianship in a slight (and given the pandemic, well-timed) rerouting of my career, I haven’t followed Scholastic as closely. It’s no longer part of my professional duties to coordinate book fairs and Scholastic purchases, and in my personal and blog life, I prefer to focus more on smaller publishers and lesser known authors. One of my kids still orders from them though, which is how this book ended up in our house.
A quick glance at the series and it’s obvious that this was an attempt by Scholastic to capitalize on the success of female biography series such as Rebel Girls. Even the name here is a rip off of the She Persisted books. But being derivative isn’t always bad in children’s literature – while these books are less fun for adults to read, simplified plots and repetitive sentences can also help early readers in some circumstances.
What bothered me most about this book is that it was very clearly written for white readers (although it doesn’t state that openly) and panders heavily. If you read Malala’s own books, her perspective involves criticism of her culture – but from a place of deep love, respect, and understanding. For her as a cultural insider to denounce the Taliban and some aspects of traditional life, involves very different nuance than what Walsh uses here.
“Every time school closed for the vacation, I had to find my way home. That was one of the hardest things: the village might be 5 miles away, or it might be 50.” page 51
Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton, with Herman Viola.
National Geographic, Washington, D.C., 2003.
MG autobiography, 128 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 4.0 points) .
A unique story of a nomadic Maasai boy in Kenya who went to school and eventually came to America.
This is one of those books (of which, thankfully, I keep finding more and more) that I cannot recommend highly enough. There are few books in English that tell about African life in an unbiased and non-colonial manner. When you add to that a middle grade, non-fiction book about nomadic peoples? I cannot think of any other. Lekuton has lived that rare combination of an extraordinary life and a perfectly ordinary one. Luckily for us, he’s also decided to put it into an autobiography for middle grade readers.
“King Bheema was a kind and just ruler. Every day he held court at the palace. Rich or poor, tall or short, man or woman – anyone could walk in with a problem.” page 1
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.
My edition Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2019.
MG fiction, 180 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 4.4 (worth 3.0) .
NOTE: this is a compilation of two books:
> A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (2010)
> A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (2016)
Prince Veera and his best friend Suku decide to hold court and resolve disputes when his father King Bheema is not available in this collection of eight interconnected short stories.
I came across this charming book looking for our next family read-alouds after we finished the Anna Hibiscus series. Since there are only two volumes, the American publisher has decided to combine them into one book. It was considerably cheaper to purchase the collected hardcover volume than to buy the two paperbacks separately, although I’m not sure how much that has to do with import costs.