In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.
The text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.
The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.
As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.
For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.
Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.
~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz