Tag Archives: Afghanistan

PPBF – The Roses in my Carpets

Today’s Perfect Picture Book is another Canadian import, this one by a prolific Muslim Pakistani-Canadian female author, Rukhsana Khan.



Title: The Roses in my Carpets

Written By: Rukhsana Khan

Illustrated By: Ronald Himler

Publisher/date: Fitzhenry & Whiteside/2004 (first published by Stoddart Kids/1998)

Suitable for Ages: 6-8 (and older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; Afghanistan; carpet weaving; resilience


It’s always the same. The jets scream overhead. They’ve seen me. I’m running too slowly, dragging my mother and sister behind. The ground is treacherous, pitted with bomb craters. My mother and sister weigh me down. A direct hit. Just as I’m about to die, or sometimes just after, I awake.

Brief Synopsis: A young boy in a refugee camp relives the horrible memories of war in Afghanistan, and lives with the difficulties in the camp, but he dreams of a better life for himself and his family.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

Although The Roses in my Carpets deals with serious subjects, war, poverty and life in a refugee camp, the dreams of the young main character left me feeling hopeful that life would improve. Despite losing his father during the war and despite living a bleak hand-to-mouth existence with his mother and sister in a mud hut (he terms washing his face “a useless habit”) supported by the kindness of foreign sponsors, the narrator works hard to learn a craft that he believes will ensure that his “family will never go hungry.” I love the message of resolve and duty to family shown.

I also love that the means to make life better is a traditional art that the narrator uses to cope with the horrors he has experienced. He describes that with his fingers “I create a world the war cannot touch.” He further explains that the colors he uses have “special meaning,” with white being for his father’s shroud, green for life, black for the night sky that hides them from enemies, blue for a sky “free of jets” and red for roses. This usage and symbolism of colors reminded me of When I Coloured in the World, in which the nameless narrator imagines erasing bad things, like war, and coloring in good things, like peace.

Veteran illustrator Himler’s watercolor and pencil drawings bring Khan’s words to life, providing a stark contrast between the dinginess and dirt of the camp and the colorful carpets.

A Note about Craft:

Khan chose first-person POV to tell this story. This helps the reader to experience life in a refugee camp first-hand, something, thankfully, the vast majority of us will never do!

The carpets that the narrator weaves not only are a future means of earning a living but a way to process the horrors of his life and a way to visualize the world he hopes to inhabit. I love how Khan has made one object so central to the meaning of this story, especially as that object is a work of art. I think it’s a useful lesson for authors to find objects to include in their stories that can add meanings on multiple levels, as the carpet does here.

Khan is an #OwnVoices author who was born in Pakistan, the location of the Afghan refugee camp, and moved as a young child to Canada. According to a review from The Toronto Star newspaper reproduced on Khan’s website, the inspiration for the narrator is a foster child whom Khan sponsored.

Visit Rukhsana Khan’s website, where you can learn about The Libraries in Afghanistan Project that she supports and see the Muslim Booklist for kids. Among many other books, Khan is the author of King for a Day, which I reviewed last month.


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!

PPBF – Four Feet, Two Sandals

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of Peace. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” This theme honors “the spirit of TOGETHER , a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes and those leaving in search of a better life.”

I chose a “classic” story of two refugees in honor of the Day of Peace Together theme and to further my pledge to take action to promote peace in our world. Please join me in the United States Institute of Peace’s #PeaceDayChallenge!

ResizeImageHandlerTitle: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Written By: Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Illustrated By: Doug Chayka

Publisher/date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)/2007

Suitable for Ages: 7-10

Themes/Topics: refugees; friendship; sharing; Afghanistan; loss


Lina raced barefoot to the camp entrance where relief workers threw used clothing off the back of a truck. Everyone pushed and fought for the best clothes. Lina squatted and reached, grabbing what she could.

Brief Synopsis: When two young refugee girls without shoes find one pair of sandals, they become friends and alternate wearing the sandals.

Links to Resources:

  • Wear one shoe only & walk around the house and/or neighborhood. How does it feel to wear only one shoe? Try switching one shoe or both shoes with a family member or friend. How does it feel to wear shoes that don’t fit quite correctly and/or to wear shoes that fit differently?
  • Learn about Afghanistan, the country where this story occurs.
  • View the Teacher’s Guide here.

Why I Like this Book:

Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of the first picture books dealing with the refugee situation and was published even before that situation became what we now term the “refugee crisis”. Much has changed in the ten years since its publication, but, sadly, much remains the same: only the numbers and countries seem to increase each year. Because it focuses on the day-to-day experiences of two young girls and because it concerns a kid-relatable topic, ie, what do you do when there isn’t enough of something for two or more kids, I think it remains an important book for classroom and family reading.

The sepia-toned illustrations transported me to the camp and helped me envision the experiences the two friends shared. An Author’s Note provides context and information about the refugee experience.

A Note about Craft:

The theme of leaving one’s home, losing family members to war, terror attacks or a natural disaster, and settling in a camp or center with few possessions or food is overwhelming for adults, let alone children. By focusing on one detail of that experience, the shoes Lina needs, finds, and ultimately shares with Feroza, Williams and Mohammed help us empathize with the main characters and, if you will, walk along in their shoes as they experience the trials and tribulations of life in a refugee camp. By emphasizing the particular over the general, these authors draw us into the story and build empathy for their characters. What detail(s) can you highlight in your works in progress to help draw your readers into the story and help them empathize with the main character(s)?

Not only do Williams and Mohammed focus on shoes, something kids will understand, but they provide a further description to make them more appealing: “yellow with a blue flower in the middle”. Not only does this description add more kid appeal, but the shoes stand out in each spread of the book. This reminds me that as we add details in our text, we should think about how these details will appear in illustrations throughout the book.

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!

PPBF – Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

As we’re at the end of Women’s History Month, I couldn’t help but choose a story about girls’ education in Afghanistan:

9781416994374_p0_v1_s192x300Title: Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

Written & Illustrated By: Jeanette Winter

Publisher/date: Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Themes/Topics: Afghanistan, girls’ education, overcoming loss & trauma


My granddaughter, Nasreen, lives with me in Herat, an ancient city in Afghanistan.

Art and music and learning once flourished here.

Then the soldiers came and changed everything.

The art and music and learning are gone.

Dark clouds hang over the city.

Brief Synopsis: Set in the late 1990s, during the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Nasreen’s Secret School is the true story of one young traumatized girl whose grandmother enabled her to attend a secret school for girls.

Links to Resources:

Why I Like this Book:

From the Author’s note at the beginning of the book, in which Winter tells the backstory of Nasreen and the secret school for girls, to the end, when the narrating grandmother shares that her mind is “at ease”, I found myself holding my breath: both in hopes that the secret school would remain secret and that the knowledge Nasreen gained in the school would help her overcome the trauma she experienced. As Winter writes, “Windows opened for Nasreen in that little schoolroom.” Similarly, Winter herself opens windows to readers through her words and framed, brightly-painted illustrations about the obstacles girls and their caregivers have overcome to obtain education, the importance they place on education, and the worlds that books and education open for all of us.


A Note about Craft:

Winter tells Nasreen’s Secret School from the point of view of Nasreen’s grandmother, the woman who enables Nasreen to attend school despite the Taliban threat. I think this is a good choice of narrator, as it distances the reader somewhat from the daily fears Nasreen must have felt, but it isn’t as far removed and potentially less empathetic as an omniscient or other third-party narrator.

In the Author’s note, Winter indicates that the Global Fund for Children contacted her to write a book about a school they support. The founder of that school, in turn, shared the story of Nasreen and her grandmother (changing names, for privacy and safety’s sake). This brings up an interesting question as to whether Winter filled in gaps and whether any of this “true” story has been fictionalized. Like Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, which is a refugee’s tale culled from interviews with several refugees, Nasreen’s story is filtered through interviews with both the Fund and the school’s founder.  Despite these filters, I think Winter and Beach Lane are safe to term this non-fiction, especially with the Author’s note about how she came to tell the tale.

Finally, there has been a lot of discussion in the children’s literature community about who gets to share a story. While I would love to read a first-hand account by an Afghani woman who attended a secret school for girls, the reality, I believe, is that for certain regions and topics, the existence of a well-written and illustrated picture book by any writer, regardless of background, is more important than who wrote or illustrated it, as long as the story is told with respect and empathy. Winter has a long pedigree in writing and illustrating empathetic picture books from many diverse regions, which makes her a wonderful choice to tell Nasreen’s story.

For another book by Jeannette Winter about girls’ education and brave children in Pakistan, see Malala/Iqbal: Two Stories of Brave Children (Beach Lane Books, 2014):


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!