Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Picture Books
Nasreen's Secret School

Nasreen's Secret School

Fall 2009 Picture Books
Ages: 6 - 9 yrs.
Author: Jeanette Winter
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Hardcover Price: $16.99
Just as Susan Roth's Listen to the Wind (Dial, 2009) brought young readers' attention to the dramatic story of Dr. Greg Mortensen's mission to build schools for children in the remote villages of Pakistan, so Jeannette Winter's latest picture book focuses on the plight of young girls after the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan. According to an author's note, this fictional account of a young girl named Nasreen is based on a real story related to her by an anonymous founder of the secret schools that flourished between 1996 and 2001. Told in the voice of a grandmother, readers learn that, after the Taliban soldiers came, everything changed. "The art and music and learning are all gone. Dark clouds hang over the city." Short, unadorned sentences underscore the sense of both immediacy and urgency. When the army seizes Nasreen's father and her "frantic mama" goes looking for him (a forbidden act since women and girls were not allowed to go out alone on the streets), Nasreen is left to wait and wonder with only her grandmother to console her. When her undaunted grandmother hears whispers about a school in a private home, she bravely takes her granddaughter there to "learn about the world." And it is clear from both text and illustrations that this is, indeed, an act of great courage. Winter's illustrations-thick bordered and saturated with color-use tilted perspectives to convey a sense of a world gone awry. Pair this with Roth's book (above) to open discussions about the meaning of freedom and the lengths people are willing to go to get a taste of the education we all take for granted in our own country.
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard   ©2009 Parents' Choice
Kristi Elle Jemtegaard is the Coordinator of Youth Services for the Arlington Public Library system. She has taught courses on children’s and young adult literature at the Catholic University of America and the University of Virginia. She has served on both the Newbery and Caldecott Award Committees of the American Library Association and has chaired the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee and the May Hill Arbuthnot Award Committee. She is a member and past president of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington DC and has chaired the Washington Post–Book Guild Nonfiction Award Committee. She is a founding member of Capitol Choices, an organization of professionals in the field of children’s literature in the greater Washington DC area. She regularly reviews children’s literature and audio productions for a variety of national publications.

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