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The Picture Book Buzz

Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala - Perfect Picture Friday #PPBF

I can't recommend this book strongly enough. It is a wonderful depiction of the relationship between Malala and her father and an excellent mentor text for illustrators and authors tackling difficult subject matters. Don't miss this wonderful nonfiction book.

Free as a Bird: The Story of Malala

Author/Illustrator: Lina Maslo

Publisher: Balzer and Bray (2018)

Ages: 4-8



Persistence, family, education of girls, freedom, diversity, and activism.

Synopsis (from Barnes & Noble):

The inspiring true story of Malala Yousafzai, human rights activist and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, from debut author/illustrator Lina Maslo.

When Malala Yousafzai was born, people shook their heads because girls were considered bad luck. But her father looked into her eyes and knew she could do anything. In Pakistan, people said girls should not be educated. But Malala and her father were not afraid. She secretly went to school and spoke up for education in her country.

And even though an enemy tried to silence her powerful voice, she would not keep quiet. Malala traveled around the world to speak to girls and boys, to teachers, reporters, presidents, and queens—to anyone who would listen—and advocated for the right to education and equality of opportunity for every person. She would shout so that those without a voice could be heard. So everyone could be as free as a bird.

Free as a Bird is the inspiring true story of a fearless girl and the father who taught her to soar.

Opening Lines:

When she was born, people sighed and shook their heads.

"A girl," they whispered. "What bad luck."

But her father looked into her eyes and fell in love.

"Malala," he whispered, and named her after Malalai of Maiwand, a Pashtun heroine whose fearless words gave courage and turned defeat into triumph.

Why I like this book:

Lina masterfully introduces the unifying color scheme on the dedication page. She surrounded a quotation from Malala's father - "Don't ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings and that is all" - with a red & yellow geometric design and finches in the corner. Juxtaposing the image of her pregnant mother (in red & yellow) feeding a bullfinch, behind a blue window.

Just like the red-headed bullfinch with blue wings, Lina depicts Malala in blue clothing with a red scarf. Everyone else is shown in shades of grey or with white scarves.

Malala's story is one of struggle (fighting to get an education, where educating girls was frowned upon), violence (the attempt to silence her), persistence (she fought through a coma and rehab), and determination (she travels the world advocating for the education of girls/women). Notably she is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I love that while Lina Maslo doesn't sugar coat the story, she doesn't focus on the violence either. She makes it accessible to both younger and older children. In addressing the shooting, the backgrounds of five, almost cartoon-like, vignettes become red and the text reads "But the day came" "when he could not" "protect" "her." A page turn offers a wordless double spread of red and black fading off into blue ripples again. Then another wordless spread of a peaceful waterfall and two flying finches (representing her week-long coma). Then "she awoke in a hospital." This allows the child to access the story on whatever level they and their parent are comfortable. The author's note explains a bit more.

In depicting Malala's travels around the world to fight the education of everyone, I love how Lina used the red scarf to form the outlines of the continents.

Overall, this is a tender, inspiring non-fiction book of a truly amazing young woman. As Lina Maslo said in her interview on Monday, her primary focus in the book is upon "Malala and her father because their relationship is so amazing. And the phrase he said, “Malala will be free as a bird.” This book is a celebration and a call to arms for as her father said, "When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful."


- Though not specifically reviewed for Multicultural Children's Book Day #MCBD 2018 (1/27/2018), Free as a Bird is a perfect book to read this weekend. Then be sure to stop by their site, or look for the hashtag #ReadYourWorld, to find other multicultural books;

- the book includes additional reading, films, and websites;

- write or draw a picture about - a change YOU can make, an image that could create change?

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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