Malala Yousafzai's powerful memoir, I Am Malala, is the inspirational 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 because the Taliban prohibits females from attending school, and she and her family are involved in education advocacy. Students will find Malala's extraordinary story compelling, and the topics she addresses provide many opportunities for class discussion.

Yousafzai eloquently outlines the political history of Pakistan and Swat (her hometown), so a lesson based on these facts may not be essential; however, comparing the actions of the Taliban to other acts of terrorism and genocide would further contextualize Yousafzai's experience. What are the implications of the fact that these horrific acts can still be committed easily and consistently against fellow human beings? Furthermore, 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 motifs present in the memoir, including gender and gender equality, education, fear and courage, and family and heritage. Additionally, Malala's decision to include meaningful quotations demonstrates how deeply she values expression. This idea could be taken to the next level by having students perform speeches concerning topics they're passionate about, just as Malala did.

Help your students experience the power of words by checking out our guide for how to teach I Am Malala!

Summary of I Am Malala

Key Facts:

  • Length: 327 pages
  • Publication Date: 2013
  • Recommended Grade Band: 8-10
  • Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
  • Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir & Autobiography (2013); Grammy for Best Children's album of 2015 (audio version); Nonfiction Book of the Year at the Specsaver National Book Awards (2013)

On October 9th, 2012, education rights activist Malala Yousafzai was on her way home from school when a member of the Taliban stopped her bus, demanded to know which girl was Malala, and then 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 graphic violence.

What Your Students Will Love About I Am Malala

  • Reading about Malala's courage and strength throughout her journey
  • Malala's advocacy for equality in education

Potential Student Struggles With I Am Malala

  • Keeping straight the names of various political figures, family members, and other influences
  • Remembering order of events and definitions of Pashto words and sayings (Luckily, in the back of the book, there is a glossary, as well as a timeline of significant events in Swat and Pakistan.)

Learning Objectives for 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 these ideals just or unjust.
  • Discuss problems and injustices that exist in education in countries all over the world.
  • Consider each poetry excerpt, song excerpt, and quotation in the memoir and explain how it connects to one or more of the following motifs: gender, education, fear vs. courage, and family and heritage.
  • Encourage students to form opinions concerning Malala's journey.
  • Identify events in the memoir that exemplify the theme that using your voice to stand up for what you believe in can make a difference.

Literary Elements in I Am Malala

  • Allusion
  • Context: Cultural & Political
  • Epigraph
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Maxim
  • Memoir
  • References (to poetry, books, and music)
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Major Themes in I Am Malala

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.

Related Works:

Education — Malala and her father believe that all children have the right to go to school. They use this strong belief as fuel to speak out against the Taliban.

Related Works:

Fear vs. Courage — Malala fights her circumstances by having the courage to stand before others—risking her life—to speak on behalf of her people.

Related Works:

Other Resources for I Am Malala