One voice can change the world.
There are few books that choke me up and move me to tears. That cause a deep and aching sadness in me. There are even fewer children books that have this effect. Malala’s Magic Pencil is one of these. My oldest daughter has been getting more and more skilled cat reading. We practice together every night before bed. We’ve been making a lot of progress. We had been getting a lot of practice in reading fro cheer mythology atlas of the world. Sometimes she proudly reads a children’s book to me all on here own. The first she did the with was about a mouse going to a swimming pool. The first she specifically said she wanted to read all by herself was the new children classic the pigeon has to go to School. Most of the time we practice with her reading the first or last sentence of a paragraph or the shorter paragraph of the two pages. She always chooses what the book of the night will be.
Last night she chose Malala’s Magic Pencil. We’ve read it before, and I’ve actually forgotten who got it for her. But the last time I was reading all of it. And though I felt emotional when I was reading it before, this time she was reading large parts of it. To hear my first grade daughter reading words to me, written by Malala Yousafzi about herself when she was thee age my daughter is was striking. Malala writes of growing up less fortunate than most western children and how she wished for a magic pencil to draw nice little things for herself, an extra hour to sleep in, a lock on her door to keep her brothers out, flower gardens to mask the smell of the trash dump near their house. I asked my daughter what she thought of this, how it made her feel. She said sad that kids should be able to go to school. I asked her to imagine what it would be like if she had to work so that she and her sister could eat instead of going to school. I told her there are some kids for whom this is a reality.
Malala writes of wanting to draw things for others, dresses for her mother, fine school buildings for her father to teach in, a soccer ball for her brothers instead of a sock stuffed with rubbish to play with. Then she touches on seeing children her own age far worse off than she, sorting trash in the dump, picking out scraps, working so their families can eat instead of going to school. Her father explains this to her sadly. She imagines using her magic pencil to solve poverty, to build peace, to build equality between boys and girls. She wonders how free she can really be in her country, in her culture as a girl, despite her father’s wishes for her to be as free as a bird. Then she talks about dangerous men coming to her village, openly carrying weapons. She talks about the dwindling of girls in her school class and her father explaining that they no longer feel safe. She writes of how she chose to take up her pencil, to use her voice to tell the world about what was happening, about how girls didn’t feel safe seeking education. She talks about how her voice became powerful. So powerful that the dangerous men sought to silence her.
She uses the effect of stark black for the page that describes this, with white text on it. My daughter said “oooh pretty dark page.” I asked her if she remembered what I told her about how the dangerous men tried to silence Malala. She said she didn’t. I told her that the dangerous men tried to shoot Malala. That they DID shoot Malala. My daughter looked surprised. And I hurriedly added “But she lived! She survived! That’s why the next picture is her in a hospital looking out the window, see the tag on her arm and the gown?”
Malala goes on to talk about how her raising her voice, the attack on her, her survival led to a swelling of support for her message for education and for more equality for girls. My daughter was happy with the closing message of the opportunity that education brings, and we ended on the high note that she and her sister both get to go to school tomorrow.
A previous time when I read the book to her she asked about the dangerous men, and if they’re still there. I said they were. And that ten year ago I was fighting men like them in a country that neighbored Malala’s. My time in Afghanistan was revelatory for me. It still provides a touchstone of the fortune we have to be born where we are. For my daughters to be born where they are. My heart continues to break for how we (the United States of America, the US Military, the west, the liberal world order) failed in Afghanistan. I hold onto hope that a we had some qualified successes. That we inspired and kindled enough flames of liberty, equality, learning that will eventually grow again. My heart is heavy for my friend whose daughter, though by rights an American Citizen, continues to be stuck in Afghanistan. For all the little girls who don’t even have that very good hope of eventual escape.
Though my efforts to help my friend in his effort to get his wife and mother and daughter out of Afghanistan have yet to bear fruit. Though the greater project of protecting and uplifting girls and boys and all people in that land is so far from finished. Still I have some hope that we can indeed do some good. This ties to both educating our own children about the variance in life experience in the world, but also in more concrete means like direct cash contributions to poverty reduction and health in the most effective charities.
The same night my daughter and I worked together to read Malala’s Magic Pencil, I also finished Will MacAskill’s Doing Good Better. I know for a fact that if my family and I can find a way to allocate 3% of our yearly income to one of the most effective charities, we could fund enough anti malarial treatments to save a life, enough de-worming medication to treat thousands of school children and 10x their educational achievement, or to double the
Yearly income of 15 people.
So lets get going.
If you are moved to take action by this you can do so here.
Much of this text is repeated in my book review here.