When I first read the title and saw the jacket of today’s Perfect Picture Book, I couldn’t help but think back to my days at university in upstate New York. As I traveled back and forth to campus, I’d pass many dilapidated, rural houses. I recall thinking that if I could paint these houses, I’d somehow improve the lives of the inhabitants.
While I know that a coat of paint isn’t the answer to economic inequality or other social ills, I also understand the desire to magically make the world better, expressed so well in today’s Perfect Picture Book.
Title: Malala’s Magic Pencil
Written By: Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated By: Karascoët
Publisher/date: Little Brown and Company/October 2017
Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and older)
Themes/Topics: female education; Pakistan; dreams; autobiography; social justice
Do you believe in magic?
Brief Synopsis: The story of Malala Yousafzai, a proponent and symbol of female education.
Links to Resources:
- If you had a magic pencil what would you draw?
- Learn more about Pakistan, the country where Malala dreamt of a magic pencil, here and here, and see a map of Pakistan here.
Why I Like this Book:
As the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is a well-recognized young woman. Most of us probably know the story of the attack that led to her global fame, too. Malala’s Magic Pencil focuses, instead, mainly on her early years, when she was a young child like many others, focused solely on her own desires.
We meet a young Malala who discovered the idea of a magic pencil from a favorite television hero. She writes not that she wanted to change the world with her magic pencil, but rather she wanted to draw a lock on a door “so my brothers couldn’t bother me.” Even her first recognition of societal problems, a trash dump near her home, is expressed as a desire to get rid of an odor that bothers her.
We then learn that as she grows, Malala increasingly becomes aware of social inequities. Her use of the magic pencil evolves to include erasing “war, poverty, and hunger,” until, as she writes in a letter to readers at the end of the story, “when you find your voice, every pencil can be magic.” Shared by such a young woman who was a child so recently, I think this is a message that will resonate with young listeners. Despite some dark scenes, this is a gentle lesson for children that their voices and actions can help change the world for the better.
The ink and watercolor illustrations are stunning! Golden accents that reminded me of henna markings or South Asian artwork effectively conveyed me to Pakistan and the “beautiful Swat Valley” of Malala’s childhood.
A Note about Craft:
Malala’s Magic Pencil is an autobiography, told from the first-person point of view. I think this works well for this story, as it is Malala’s story and imparts a sense of immediacy to the action.
Malala also addresses the reader directly at the beginning of the story, “Do you believe in magic?”, poses a variant of the question at the end, and then answers it. Observant readers will note that the meaning of “magic” changes subtly during the course of the story. I think this could be an interesting classroom or family discussion topic, especially with older children.
Finally, rather than focusing on the theme of the book at the outset, Malala gently guides her readers to the conclusion that using words, your voice, to effect social action is magical. What object could you use in a story to introduce your themes?
Read more about Malala and the Malala Fund. For another picture book about Malala, see Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Bravery (Jeanette Winter; Beach Lane Books/2014)
Find out more about the illustrator team, Kerascoët.
For a picture book with a similar message of the power of changing the world via words and/or pictures, see When I Coloured in the World (Ahmadreza Hamadi/Ehsan Abdollahi; Tiny Owl Publishing/2017).
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!