Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan
Author/Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Nasreen (whose real name is not given) lives with her father, mother, and grandmother in Herat, Afghanistan. The true events narrated took place between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban comes to power at the time. Their city changes from a vibrant place of art, music, and learning, to a strict and brutal military state. One night, Taliban soldiers drag Nasreen’s father out of their home, never to return. Nasreen’s mother goes out to find him, she also does not return. This leaves Nasreen and her grandmother alone and very depressed, particularly Nasreen. New laws are enforced that women cannot leave the house without a male relative as an escort and they are forbidden to attend school. After the disappearance of her parents, Nasreen does not speak a word; she stays at home in silence. Her grandmother wants to help Nasreen and does so by sneaking her into a secret school in a private house for girls. There, they evade detection by Taliban soldiers. All the teachers and female students risk their lives by being there and learning. Eventually, Nasreen’s education empowers her to speak again and she is enlightened by what she learns about the world. This true story embodies the mantra “Knowledge is Power”. Nasreen and the women involved with the secret school overcome the oppression by the Taliban to silence women and deprive them of education.
Nasreen’s Secret School represents Element 4: Social Movements and Change. A woman who lived through the drastic political upheaval in Afghanistan in recent times narrates it. She tells the story of her family under Taliban rule and its effect on the every day lives of women there. The book gives a snap shot of what ordinary females and males did around the country to educate the young girls despite the threat to their lives by government forces. The oppression of women continues in Afghanistan and is therefore a contemporary example of courage and social change.
I would preface the reading of this story with a gallery walk of Afghani artifacts and items of cultural significance. Students will have time to write down things they saw and think about what they have in common. We would do an introduction to text by a picture walk through and then discuss vocabulary words students expect to find in the story and make predictions. Then we would do a read aloud of the story. I would ask students to reflect on the following questions: How important is education to you? How important is education to Nasreen and the women of Afghanistan? Follow up activities can be written or oral and adjusted for different grade levels. Click here for lesson ideas