Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, by Karen Leggett Abouraya/Illustrated by Susan L. Roth, (Jan. 2019, Lee and Low), $19.95, ISBN: 9781620148389
This latest biography of activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks to younger, intermediate readers on their level: she grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, lovingly referred to by Malala as “my Swat”. Her father was the principal of a school for girls, and she grew up loving books and learning. In 2007, when the Taliban came to power and tried to ban education for girls and women, Malala began blogging, under a pen name; her blog was picked up by the BBC’s website in 2009. Her family fled the Swat Valley when Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban, but they returned when the fighting was over, finding much of their home destroyed. In 2012, Malala and two friends were shot by Taliban soldiers who boarded their school bus. She was taken to a hospital in England, and her activism became a worldwide phenomenon, speaking at the United Nations and receiving a Nobel Prize for her work.
The text is straightforward, describing the Taliban’s policies and even Malala’s shooting in plain language. The Taliban doesn’t get to take Malala’s story away from her: she shines here, with her accomplishments and her dedication to education for all being the main focus of the book. Her awards and her studies are lauded, as is her love of the color pink and her love for her family and her home. Back matter includes information on Pakistan, the Taliban, The Malala Fund, and a spotlight on youth activism and organizations.
The collage art is outstanding. Most of the artwork is soft, using felts and fabrics with warm and soft colors to create Malala, her family, her world, and the diversity of the United Nations and our world; even when women must don black clothing to avoid notice by the Taliban, the crisp blacks and whites of the characters clothing are felt: soft, warm. That all changes for the two pages introducing the Taliban, which depicts them using photo art with crudely drawn, mask-like faces. It made me sit up the first time I read the book, and on subsequent readings, I realized how brilliant illustrator Susan L. Roth is. It’s a subtle, but jarring change that lets readers experience just a fraction of the discomfort, the fear, that these figures brought with them. Incredible artwork by an award-winning illustrator, and it supports and gives life to Karen Leggett Abouraya’s informative reporting. Add this to your picture book biographies.