October 18, 2016
Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
At one time, art, music and learning had a place in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, that all changed. Soldiers from the hills moved into the cities. They shut down the schools, especially the schools for girls. This is the story of one of those girls.
Nasreen’s days were long and boring and sad. The soldiers had come in the night and dragged her father into the street. After waiting for him to return, Nasreen’s mother went looking for him. It was forbidden for her to do this, no woman was allowed to go out alone but with just her and her mother-in-law and little Nasreen, there was no one who could go.
Months passed as Nasreen and her grandmother waited. Nasreen no longer spoke. All she did was sit and wait.
Her grandmother couldn’t let this go on. She had heard about a secret school for girls. In this school, Nasreen could learn as her grandmother had learned, as her mother had learned. Nasreen and her grandmother slipped down the lanes to the green gate. A lady teacher answered their knock and let Nasreen inside.
This isn’t a new book – it came out in 2009. Yet, somehow I didn’t see it until recently.
Very few of us remember what Afghanistan used to be like. 70% of all teachers were women. So were 40% of the doctors and 50% of the students at Kabul University. With the Taliban, women could no longer work or go to school. They couldn’t even travel in the streets unless they were accompanied by a male relative — an impossibility with your only male relative has been taken away by the soldiers.
Jeanette Winter was invited to write a book and chose this story to tell. It is based on a real little girl and her real grandmother. Obviously, Winter had to make some changes to the story to ensure their safety — or at least to avoid endangering them any further. I love that although this is a story about a girl and her grandmother and other girls and women, Winter shows the part that good men also play. She tells about little boys who distract the soldiers when they see women and girls heading toward the school.
Share this book with your young readers. It is truly a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard.