Monday, March 25, 2019

Words Have Power

“Let us pick up our books and pens…
One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
            United Nations, July 12, 2013

The words of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot for defending the right of all children to be educated, have echoed around the world.  She continues to travel and speak out, highlighting the dim future for girls forced to leave school early and children forced to flee their homes.

The new edition of Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words (2019, Lee & Low)  tells Malala’s story from the blog she began writing for the BBC at age 11 to her Nobel Prize in 2014 and the organizations she continues to inspire as a 21-year-old college student.

When she returned from her Girl Power Trip around the world in 2017, she said she “wants every girl and boy to stand up and speak out for the millions of children worldwide who are not yet able to attend school.”  The book includes extensive back matter on Pakistan, the Taliban, the Malala Fund and other organizations young people can join to support the cause of global education for all.

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words is a perfect launchpad for children from elementary school even through high school to think and write about civic engagement, as well as their own lives contrasted with Malala and the children for whom she advocates. Here are a few suggestions:

·       Malala was forced to flee her own home with just a small backpack when the Pakistani Army began fighting the Taliban.  Aside from whatever food and clothes you could carry, what three things would you take if you had to leave your home suddenly and why? (Give this assignment very carefully if there are children in your class who may actually have experienced such displacement.)

·       Children have an immediate understanding of things that are not fair. Have them write about something in their school or community that is unfair – and what they could do about it.

·       For an art project, have students consider this illustration showing Malala’s family when they returned to their town after it had been heavily damaged by fighting. Illustrator Susan L. Roth says she is not precise in her art, which she makes with paper, fabric and other “found” objects. But the emotions in this illustration are very clear. What is the family feeling? Ask students to use paper and found objects to make a portrait showing an emotion. 

·       Older students may scoff at the idea of reading a picture book, but they too can write about how illustrations help tell the story (visual literacy). Students can also react to the ideas in this Washington Post article about the moral authority of children – including Malala. Why do her ideas resonate? Why do students think protests, marches and other civic action by children have a greater impact than actions by adults (or not)?

·       A long-term project: Identify an issue or cause that is supported by the majority of students in class and talk about ways to make the change they would like to see. Write letters to the appropriate authority, design flyers and write online messages to spread the word.

Malala rarely draws attention to herself when she speaks. When she accepted the Nobel Prize, she said, “This award is…for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.”

Indeed, says the young warrior with words, “our words can change the world.”

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