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Malala, Modern Age Heroine: Six More Heroines You Should Know

11 Nov

Out of sheer curiosity, I asked my kids in the YA Department, “Who is Malala Yousafzai?”  I got sporadic answers like “She’s an activist,” “She got the Nobel peace prize,” and “She got shot!” (That last one was said a bit dramatically.) They got the idea of who she was. The kids may not be able to fully relate to her but they feel a kinship with her because she is their age. Malala is looked to as a hero by people of all ages, including myself. She lived in a part of Pakistan where the Taliban took over. Talibs did not see education as valuable especially for girls. In effect, Malala fought hard for equal education. For her efforts, she was shot in the head at 15 years old by the Taliban on her way to school. It took about a year for her to recover. This experience only made her fight harder for girl’s education. She founded the Malala Fund to raise awareness and money for girl’s education across the globe. Schools in remote parts of the world like a Syrian refugee camp have benefited from her fund. In 2014, she became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She even documented her experience in the book, I Am Malala. There are two versions, with one targeted to a young adult audience. To commemorate her efforts, her documentary has just been released about her life as one of the world’s youngest humanitarians.

To echo the words of Malala, “I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is not.” She is one of many that fights or have fought for quality education for all. Below I have made a nonfiction book list of different Malala’s of different times and countries even our own. Here are some books that put the value of a quality education into perspective and others that tell what happens when that opportunity is taken away.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, by Jenny Norberg


Even though I read this book earlier this year, I still look back at it with awe. It spoke of women’s issues and restricted rights in present Afghanistan. It appealed to me as an historian because it told of Afghanistan’s rich history. It also had an almost unbiased view of the rules that structure the society of the afghan people. In a society like Afghanistan, men are more valued because they are not limited by the demands of marriage and childbirth as women are. But, women found a way to combat this cultural sexism. The author zeros in on the practice of bacha posh, translated means like a boy. The practice is dressing a girl as a boy for the various reasons. It can be to give the family security in the absence of a male relative, generate income for a family by making the child the breadwinner, or for the simple reason of getting a quality education. Nordberg digs deeper into the psyche of the bacha posh. For example, by interviewing two women that are among the few to attend the university attested their success to being a bacha posh growing up. I’d recommend this book to anyone because it is an elegantly written and shows the resilience of the women of Afghanistan as opposed to certain popular news media. Recommended for ages 18+.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi


This is the story of Azar Nafisi’s experience in the Islamic Republic of Iran as an educated professor forced to teach in secret. She takes seven of her most committed female students to continue their education in secret even from their own families. Pr. Nafisi has them read forbidden western classics authored by Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Vladmimir Nabokov. The women accepted the challenge and educated themselves through these banned books. They further explored their wants in life or their frustrations at the world closing in around them. More importantly they discovered freedom in the very crime that they commit. Reading! Recommended for ages 18+.

Through My Eyes, by Ruby Bridges


Ruby Bridges, a famous civil rights activist, wrote this book in the perspective of her six year old self. She reflects on her harrowing experience of coming to terms with racism and violence for being one of the first African-Americans to attend an all-white school in New Orleans. Although, Ruby was in the protection of U.S Marshalls, they could not protect her ears from the threats that white supremacists shouted every day. One threat in particular was a lady threatening to poison her. Being six year old, Ruby takes it so seriously that she only eats plastic wrapped food. Through the chaos, shines the genuine love of her parents and her teacher, Mrs. Henry. Observations of young Ruby at the time were portrayed through written excerpts by her teacher, her parents, and even famous news publications like The New York Times. Although, this book is for ages 8 up, I enjoyed the testimony of bravery as an adult. (6 year old + desegregation = equal education.)

The Little Rock Nine


The Little Rock Nine is another name one should come across when reading of the Civil Rights Movement. The desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was years before Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African American students that challenged the “Jim Crow law” to go to an all-white school. The experiences of these nine brave souls was very similar to Ruby Bridges but each unique in their own right. In the books, The Long Shadow of Little Rock: A Memoir by Daisy Bates, Warriors Don’t Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals, and Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick, are just some that will forever be immortalize Little Rock Nine. Recommended for ages 16+.

The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by the Freedom Writers


This book is the true story of Erin Gruwell and her students fight for a quality education facing gang members, abusive relatives, and school politics. The school they attended was in an inner city area where guns and drugs are a way of life for most students. Mrs. Gruwell is a first year teacher that gets assigned the “unteachable” students. These students are assigned to her with the intent to pass them through high school because what was the point of teaching them when they were either going to die or get pregnant by age 17. But, Mrs. Gruwell had the opposite in mind. Over time, she takes each hardened student and ingrains in them hope and confidence through her teachings that were related to their daily lives. Her success showed in the fact that all her students got to graduate high school. Some even got to be the first in their family to attend college. This book has been adapted into a movie (The Freedom Writers) with Hilary Swank as Erin Gruwell. This book reflects on the education in most inner city schools that are simply given up on. The stories of these students and Mrs. Grewell are not unique. There are hundreds of failing schools in the U.S. with people like Mrs. Gruwell. This is a sad fact. This is an excellent book for especially educators. Recommended for ages 14+.

I am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali


Nujood Ali was 10 years old when she was married off to a man three times her age in Yemen. As child bride, she was abused in her new home at the hands of her mother-in-law and husband. When she had enough of her situation, she runs away to the courthouse to get a divorce. With the help of a Yemeni lawyer, she was granted a divorce and makes a movement to increase enforcement of banning the marriage of underage brides in Yemen, like her sister and in other Middle Eastern countries. If education was a priority to Nujood’s family, would she have been married off at 10? I believe not. It is a book of a young girl’s bravery to go against her culture to find her own voice and freedom.  Recommended for ages 18+.

-Written by Elbie Love, Young Adult Library Assistant

Four Movies to Watch to Get Your Cinderella Fix

21 Oct

Ed. note: Did you see Elbie’s post about books to read based on the Cinderella story?

Cinderella… Cinderella!!!

Just thinking of it brings me back to girlhood when the land of make believe was more attainable. Fairy godmothers, nasty stepsisters, and the dazzling smile of the handsome prince was breathtaking at the time. As a 90s girl with an unapologetic love for fairytales, Cinderella was one of my favorites besides Belle from Beauty and the Beast (we’ll get to that another time). As some may know, Disney had just came out when a live action version of Cinderella on DVD which I of course pre-ordered online. (Did you?) I knew as soon as the credits were rolling on my TV screen, I had to watch another Cinderella movie. Being born in 90s gave me the opportunity to grow up watching different versions of Cinderella on screen played by actors like Brandy and Drew Barrymore. I am grateful for it because it gave me reassurance that one does not have to look a certain way to be a princess, especially Cinderella. It is literally not about how one looks but by how one reacts to a tough situation. Are you kind or cruel in heat of the moment? Do you have the urge to emotionally stab someone in the heart just to feel like you won? I have some Cinderella movie suggestions that transcend different times and eras but the message of prevailing over your enemies is ingrained into the very fabric of the movies. (Plus, there are all family friendly to watch.) Here are four that would make you swoon for a happily ever after.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997)


Image via Amazon

Who wouldn’t want to hear the late Whitney Houston be the best fairy godmother by singing every note with soulful perfection? (It was, also, co-produced by her.) Yes, Brandy Norwood is not the typical blonde hair and blue eyed version but is just as elegant and beautiful. (She recently the starred in Chicago on Broadway.) The Prince is played by Paolo Montalbán, a Rutgers University and St. Peters Prep alumni. Other than being a handsome face, he is a beautiful singer. Bernadette Peters plays the wicked stepmother and looks beautiful while doing it. Whoopi Goldberg plays the queen and overzealous stepmother. These are just some of the stars that are part of this star studded musical version of Cinderella.

Ever After (1998)


Ever After is set in the 16th century France. Danielle (Drew Barrymore) is Cinderella. She grows up a rebellious tomboy. Her father loved her the way she was and educated her through books of philosophy and fairy tales. He never held her back from being the person she was. Being a merchant he had to go away many at times. One day, he brought back a regal woman (Anjelica Huston) as his wife, and her two daughters. Danielle thought nothing of it until they showed their real colors toward her and says nothing to not disappoint her father. When he dies of a heart attack, she is reduced to a servant girl in her own house. When she goes into town in disguise, the prince looks her away and doesn’t look back. It is a love story not to miss.

A Cinderella Story (2004)


Hilary Duff plays the modern Cinderella, Sam Montgomery. She is a jeans and t-shirt wearing underdog in the valley, California. She was orphaned after an earthquake. Austin Ames (Chad Michael Murray) the supposed prince talks to an online mystery girl that happens to be Sam. They both don’t know each other until school dance. Sam hides in a mask so she keeps her secret from the prince. When the clock stuck 12, she dashes for the exit leaving her phone, not a shoe. Watch to see if the romance blooms or goes as fast as a sent text message.

Cinderella (2015)


The words “Have Courage and be kind” are a new motto from this very recent live action adaption of Cinderella. This phase is adapted into Ella’s (Downton Abbey’s Lily James) life when mother makes her promise to “Have Courage and be Kind” before she dies. Thereafter, she grew up with her widowed father unchanged in spirit. Her father did change by the sadness that took him after his wife’s death. Years later, He married again hoping to gain happiness once more. This did not happen because it was a marriage of convenience not love. The stepmother and stepsisters are struck with jealousy as soon as they see Ella. They withheld their nastiness as much they could until the death of Ella’s father. It was then that they decided to treat her cruelly and call her Cinderella “reducing her to a creature of ash.” Ella’s resilience is the main attribute of the story. I personally think that if the prince wasn’t in the movie, I wouldn’t care because Ella’s display of strength showcased the whole movie.

-Written by Elbie Love, Young Adult Library Assistant

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