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Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan Hardcover – October 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 2–4—This story begins with an author's note that succinctly explains the drastic changes that occurred when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The focus is primarily on the regime's impact on women, who were no longer allowed to attend school or leave home without a male chaperone, and had to cover their heads and bodies with a burqa. After Nasreen's parents disappeared, the child neither spoke nor smiled. Her grandmother, the story's narrator, took her to a secret school, where she slowly discovered a world of art, literature, and history obscured by the harsh prohibitions of the Taliban. As she did in The Librarian of Basra (Harcourt, 2005), Winter manages to achieve that delicate balance that is respectful of the seriousness of the experience, yet presents it in a way that is appropriate for young children. Winter's acrylic paintings make effective use of color, with dramatic purples and grays, with clouds and shadows dominating the scenes in which the Taliban are featured, and light, hopeful pinks both framing and featured in the scenes at school. This is an important book that makes events in a faraway place immediate and real. It is a true testament to the remarkable, inspiring courage of individuals when placed in such dire circumstances.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ END


"Winter celebrates the importance of education, and the reminder to Western children that it is a privilege worth fighting for is a powerful one."--The Horn Book Magazine

"The personal nature of the story individualizes the conflict in Afghanistan...and the quiet, tightly focused approach helps make the situation accessible. The notion of school as a privilege revoked rather than a mandatory setnece may also elicit some thoughtful kid consideration."--The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Winter’s precise acrylics tell this story in matter-of-fact images: Taliban soldiers coming down the mountain to the city of Herat, “where art and music and learning once flourished”; a girl called Nasreen sitting at home, silent since her parents disappeared, forbidden to attend school; the grandmother, who tells the story, taking her to a secret girls’ school in a private home. The students’ brightly colored headscarves stand in for their bravery and eagerness to learn.”--The New York Times Book Review

"Winter tells another powerful story, based on true events, of an individual activist whose singular courage brings social change...Winter artfully distills enormous concepts into spare, potent sentences that celebrate Herat’s rich cultural, Islamic history...even as they detail the harrowing realities of Taliban rule. And in her signature style of deceptively simple compositions and rich, opaque colors, Winter’s acrylic paintings give a palpable sense of both Nasreen’s everyday terror and the expansive joy that she finds in learning."--Booklist

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 6 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: 1 - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 630L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Beach Lane Books (October 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416994378
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416994374
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.5 x 11 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,164 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Grandma Books VINE VOICE on December 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This picture book is told as narrated by the grandmother,which I think helps to provide an emotional buffer for children. She tells of how music and arm and learning once flourished in her city, but now soldiers have come and changed everything, and these things are now gone. Her grand-daughter, Nasreen stays at home all day because the Taliban soldiers deny the joys and privileges of schooling to girls.

Nasreen's father is taken away by the police, and her mother goes to find word of him and never returns. Nasreen retreats into her own inner world and ceases to speak. The grandmother hears of a secret school for girls and she brings her grand-daughter to the school, praying to Allah that she will find something there to help her bloom again.

The soldiers come to the school once, but the girls outwit them, says the grandmother, by hiding their forbidden schoolbooks and reading the Koran by the time the soldier comes. Other times boys outside watch and distract the soldiers. One day Nasreen speaks to a friend in the school and tells her of her sorrows, and after that she begins to smile, and 'little by little, day by day,' she learns to read, to write, to do math, and she learns of the world around her. The grandmother compares what she learns to windows, and says that with this knowledge, Nasreen will never again be alone, "the knowledge she holds inside will always be with her, like a good friend."

The illustrations remind me a little of the Grandma Moses style, primitive, an almost dreamlike sense of perspective, but with a marked Middle Eastern influence.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Ellen W. VINE VOICE on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "Nasreen's Secret School", young Nasreen has fallen into depression since her father was taken by the Taliban and her mother disappeared looking for him. She has withdrawn into herself and won't speak. Her grandmother takes a risk by enrolling her in a secret school for girls, believing that it's the only thing that can bring Nasreen out of her shell. Although it takes time, Nasreen eventually starts to respond to her new knowledge, and to other people.

This is a wonderful book about the importance of education, the healing powers of love, and the ability of the human spirit to rise above oppression. Although the story is set in Afghanistan and has a distinct Middle-Eastern backdrop, the themes and emotions presented are universal. I appreciate the fact that the grandmother narrates the tale. Nasreen seems too shy to tell her own story, and the grandmother probably has more awareness of what's going on. This also helps adult readers relate to the story better, I think. The book also evoked a good emotional response from me. I was especially touched by a scene where Nasreen finally opens up to one of her classmates.

Some may worry that the story is too heavy for children, and it is a bit much for the four and under group. However, I think older children will be able to appreciate and enjoy it. They may not understand all the complexities of the plot, but they will understand the basics: Nasreen is sad because her parents are gone, but she's able to find happiness in learning and new friends. These are emotions children can relate to. The story does have sad parts, but I think children can handle it. It's important for them to experience different emotions so they can relate to others. It's a good book that gets children asking questions and imagining new experiences.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Altar Boy on October 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a well written picture book based on a true story. Picture books are not always geared for the very young, but can be an excellent source to launch discussions among children, especially upper elementary. This book would be a great addition to a teacher's classroom library. Teachers often need a story that provides a brief exposure to a problem in order to get the kids all on the same page. Based on current events, Nasreen's Secret School would be excellent starting point to advance further research on the Taliban. Students will easily be able to grasp the enormous risk girls take in Afghanistan just to get an education.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gratitude on December 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I selected this book in hopes to give my boys a little bit of exposure to what other children experience in another part of the world. Since my elementary aged child does not like school, I was hoping that it would impart some notion to him that there are kids all over the world who would LOVE to attend school and simply don't have the opportunities like he does. (yeah, I know...the whole I walked 10 miles in the snow to get to school story)

I was pleasantly surprised that both boys, 5 and 8 listened intently to the story but instead of my son being appreciative of the chance to attend school, my boys were both deeply saddened that the main character, Nasreen's parents were missing and that she had to sneak to attend school and was so sad that she never spoke.

I thought that the book was a nice change from the standard children's books that usually read here in the US and perhaps the writing style was due to the translation and the fluidity of both languages being lost in translation but I felt in some areas of the book, the writing was a tad choppy - even for a kid's book and it was written a bit too simple if you will. I am still glad to have had the chance to share it with my kids although when I've offered to read it to them again, they both decline saying that this book makes them too sad.
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