Reviewed by Clare Brook
Penguin Random House have initiated a series for young readers, seven years and upward, profiling the extraordinary lives of people famous for their outstanding leadership and ability. This is a refreshing counterpoint to the cult of celebrity that surrounds children today. So far the lives of Stephen Hawking, (reviewed on this site January 2019), Malala Yousafzai and Michelle Obama have been released.
The presentation of these books delivers a light, easy-to-read narrative, supported by simple, yet evocative illustrations. There is a one-colour theme, in various shades, for each book. Starbursts announce little known facts and explanations of difficult vocabulary, while type faces change in size and style for dramatic affect. This lively presentation is designed to keep the young reader involved.
The presentation of the life story of this brave young girl is in the colour red. The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai opens with a shaded map of the World with Malala’s country of birth, Pakistan, represented in dark red. A more detailed map of Pakistan, circled top right of the page, shows the capital Islamabad, and the Swat Valley where Malala grew up. Pakistan’s flag tops the page. This two-page illustration centres the young readers’ mind on Malala’s geographic context. There is also a lovely description of the beautiful Swat Valley detailed on page eight and nine. Following this brief geography lesson, there is an overview of Malala’s social and political context. Difficult concepts such as the ‘Taliban’, ‘injustice’ and ‘campaigning’ are explained simply and clearly.
Malala’s family life and history follows and it is apparent that she was very fortunate to have such a progressive father. Ziauddin Yousafzai was determined that his daughter would be well educated and have choices in her life, rather than following the generally proscribed route of an early marriage. Even as a young girl, Malala was aware of the poverty that existed for some people in her district and, like her father, believed that all children should be educated.
Then the narrative that made history is detailed. From 200l, when the New York Trade Centre was destroyed by al-Qaeda, until 2012 when Malala was attacked, almost fatally shot by the Taliban. This turbulent period is handled well – Malala’s courage and determination shines out from the pages. I am sure that readers will be amazed by how much Malala achieved, and continues to achieve, in her life. It sends a strong message that is very dear to Malala that education is the basis of a successful life and it should be available to all children, regardless of class or gender.
At the end of the book is a time line of events that led up to all that happened to Malala. There is an explanation of how the Taliban came into being and how their beliefs are self-serving rather than following true Islam.
The Extraordinary Life of Malala Yousafzai works as a history lesson and as an example of how one small powerless person can make an enormous difference in the World. This must be heartening for young people facing an unstable World.
By Hiba Noor Khan, illustrated by Rita Petruccioli
Penguin Random House
Paperback: $16.99; 107pp
Michelle’s life story is presented in differing shades of blue. Once again a World map shows the geographical context, for Michelle it is, of course, the United States of America. Chicago, Illinois, where Michelle was born and grew up is shown in a small separate map detailing the surrounding States.
Then, following the format, an overview of her life as a young African American girl from a poor background and how with hard work and determination Michelle La Vaughn Robinson rose to be powerful in the World in her own right, and as the wife of Barack Obama, President of the United States of America from 2009-2016.
Michelle’s family history will be quite amazing for young readers, as they read about the life of Melvinia, an illiterate slave girl, who was owned and worked from the age of six for a man called David Patterson. Melvinia was the great-great-great-grand-mother of Michelle Obama.
“I wake up in a house that was built by slaves. I watch my daughters – two beautiful, black young women – head off to school, waving goodbye the their father, The President of the United States…”
Michelle’s success story, like Malala, has its foundation in a successful education. Both Michelle and Malala were fortunate to have parents who were determined that their children would do well at school and did everything in their power to ensure their child’s success. Michelle learnt the importance of hard-work and persistence from her father, who, despite suffering from multiple sclerosis, went to work every day without fail. Michelle was a brilliant student studying sociology at Princeton and then to Harvard to gain a law degree. She was working in Chicago as a lawyer when she met Barack Obama in 1989.
‘You too can realize your dreams,
And then your job is to reach back
And to help someone
Just like you
Do the same thing.’
Whatever career path Michelle was following she tried to help others get ahead. She worked for the mayor of Chicago, set up the office of Public Allies, and was the associate dean of student services at the University of Chicago. As the wife of the President, Michelle continued to speak out promoting fairness and equality.
The Extraordinary Life of Michelle Obama is an interesting and inspiring book. It teaches the importance of hard work, persistence, strong community values and how one person can make a difference.
Recommended for all young readers.
by Dr. Sheila Kanani, illustrated by Sarah Walsh
Penguin Random House
Paperback: $16.99; 117pp
Click here for the Extraordinary Life of Stephen Hawking: