The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis series
When Deborah Ellis read about the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan and about their brutal treatment of girls and women, she decided that she had to get involved. She visited refugee camps in Pakistan, met Afghan women, and heard about their experiences. She was particularly struck by the story of a young girl who had cut off her hair and disguised herself as a boy so she could earn money to support her family. Deborah knew she had to turn that story into a book. The result was The Breadwinner trilogy, which tells the compelling stories of Parvana and her best friend, Shauzia. More than two million copies of The Breadwinner series have sold worldwide.
This book would be the perfect introduction to the reality of war torn Afghanistan for any middle school aged child. It may sound a little weird to say because of the horrors that we may find happening in that part of the world, but I tend to love books that are set in Afghanistan. I am a huge fan of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and those books would definitely be a good follow up for kids who read and enjoy The Breadwinner Trilogy.
These books appeal to me because the realities of war and the horrible hardships faced by the people at the hands of the Taliban are heartbreaking and important to be aware of. I also have an interest in Middle Eastern culture (not the Taliban of course, but the actual culture of the Afghan people and country.) Ignorance about other countries, cultures, and struggles upsets me more than most things, and I think reading this book at a young age could definitely develop a cultural sensitivity and interest in young readers for world issues. After all, isn’t that what reading is all about? Being able to walk in someone else’s shoes and appreciate different lives and perspectives. I’m glad to say that my youngest sister was the person who recommended this book to me, and the middle school where I did one of my teaching internships also taught this book. If I ever end up teaching in a middle school, this is definitely a book I will have on the docket to pull out for a novel study.
The edition of the book that I read contained all three novels in The Breadwinner Trilogy – The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City. In the first book, young Parvana has to pretend to be a boy in order to work and support her family in Kabul after her father has been arrested. A beautiful mix of childlike innocence and harsh tragedy, this book was very special and wonderful to read. Personally, I love reading from a child’s perspective because you get that innocent element. Seriously though, can we get any better than To Kill a Mockingbird or A Little Princess? They are some of my favourites!
It was the second book in the trilogy that lost the teacup from me. It was all right, but compared to the first and the last book it seemed lacking and a bit unrealistic. Following three children and a baby through the wilds of Afghanistan was definitely a treacherous journey, but I didn’t buy it. Their survival seemed a bit far fetched. But as an 11, 12, or 13 year old reading it, I certainly think this wouldn’t be an issue. The final book, Mud City, follows Parvana’s former friend, Shauzia, as she tries to make her way in Pakistan in order to save enough money to get herself on a boat to France. This installment was just as good as the first for me and it’s hard for me to choose between the two for a favourite!
I would recommend this trilogy to any young reader, in fact I think it is an important piece that all preteens should have on their shelves. I’m sure this simple and quick read will stay with you long after you close the final page, especially if you are young. I can definitely see this trilogy as one that would impact a young reader and become one of their most influential reads!