I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai's powerful memoir, shocks and inspires readers with the story of a young Pakistani woman who, on her way to school, is shot in the head and severely wounded by a man from the Taliban. Malala is targeted for her attendance of school and her family's involvement in education advocacy; male and female students alike will find this violent act, as well as the brutality and sexism of the Taliban, more than worthy of discussion and outrage, especially in the context of modern regularity of violence to which many have become desensitized.

Yousafzai does an incredibly good job outlining the political history of Pakistan and Swat, so a lesson on merely facts may not be essential; however, comparing the gross injustices of the Taliban to other acts of terrorism and genocide in history would provide for a powerful, eye-opening lecture: What are the implications that arise from the fact that such terrible things could so easily and consistently happen to fellow human beings? What can we do about it?

Each part of I Am Malala begins with an epigraph from traditional Pashto poetry, and Yousafzai includes many other poems, proverbs, and quotations from influential figures, texts, and events. Students may relate these references to the number of themes present in the novel, including gender and gender equality, education, fear and courage, and family and heritage. Additionally, teachers may want to point out to students that Malala's inclusion of these references further stresses her deep appreciation for and value of having and using one's voice to positively influence his or her surroundings. This idea could be taken to the next level by having each student perform a speech concerning a topic about which he or she is passionate, just as Malala did.

Summary

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, education rights activist Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school when a member of the Taliban stopped her bus, demanded, "Who is Malala?", and shot her in the head. Malala's memoir explores the political and cultural history of Pakistan and Swat and describes for the reader the events leading up to and the aftermath of this brutal act. Through Malala's experiences, readers will undoubtedly understand how a single voice can open the eyes and heart of the world.

Content Warning

I Am Malala contains incidents of sexism and graphic violence.

Objectives for Teaching
I Am Malala

  • Define fundamentalism and explain how this mindset may lead to terrorism.
  • Examine the details Yousafzai provides about the Pashtunwali code and the Quran and discuss to what extent students find them just or unjust, true or untrue.
  • Discuss problems and injustices that exist in education in countries all over the world.
  • Consider each poetry excerpt, song excerpt, and quotation from an influential figure and explain how it connects to one or more of the following themes: gender, education, fear vs. courage, and family and heritage.
  • Encourage students to form their own opinions and express their emotions about Malala's journey.
  • Emphasize the motif of giving speeches (and, on a higher level, using one's voice) to influence others and make a difference.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Cultural Context
  • Epigraph
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Maxim
  • Memoir
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Gender and Gender Inequality — Throughout the memoir, Malala struggles with her place as a woman in Swat; she must overcome the constraints society places on her in order to pursue her education and be herself.
  • Education — Malala and her father believe that all children, boys and girls, have the right to go to school. They use this strong belief as fuel to speak out against the Taliban.
  • Fear vs. Courage —  Malala fights her circumstances by having the courage to stand before others, risk her life, and speak on behalf of her people.

Related Works

Themes of Gender and Gender Inequality

 

Theme of Education

 

Theme of Fear vs. Courage

Key Facts

  • Length: 327 pages
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8 – 9

Awards

  • Yousafzai herself won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
  • Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir and Autobiography (2013)
  • Grammy for Best Children's Album of 2015 (audio version)
  • Nonfiction Book of the Year at the Specsaver National Book Awards (2013)

Movies

The documentary He Named Me Malala (2015) details Malala's life, passions, and survival. It has a PG-13 rating and runs about an hour and a half long. The film received mostly positive reviews, earning a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes and two Women's Image Network Awards nominations. Those who did criticize the piece believed that the director seemed to convey a "polite distance" from the otherwise-compelling, horrifying experiences Malala faced.

Your students will love:

  • Becoming empowered and inspired by Malala's story
  • Malala's advocacy for equality in education

Students may have problems with:

  • Keeping track of the names of various political figures, family members, and other influences
  • Remembering order of events and definition of Pashto words and sayings (luckily, the back of the book includes a glossary, as well as a timeline of significant historical events of Swat and Pakistan)

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