I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Inspiring memoir of teen Nobel laureate shot by Taliban.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 56 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will glean lots of information about daily life in Pakistan and the politics of the area, as well as other global hot spots, as Malala tells her story (there's also an appendix with a glossary and a time line of Pakistani history). The career and ultimate assassination of Benazir Bhutto are a big influence on Malala. Along the way, readers will learn some Pashtun words and get an all-too-rare-in-the-West window into the lives of religious Muslims victimized by terrorists.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about faith, courage, education, refusing to give up, having a deep love of family and home, and standing up for what you believe. In one scene, Malala meets President Obama and takes him to task for U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "If God has given you a voice, I decided, you must use it even if it is to disagree with the president of the United States," she writes. When a younger Malala's fight with a friend causes her to do something she realizes is shameful (especially after she gets caught), she's wracked with guilt, especially at disappointing her father. But "he consoled me by telling me about the mistakes great heroes had made when they were children -- heroes like Mohandas Gandhi, the great pacifist, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. He relayed a saying from a story his father used to tell him: "A child is a child when he's a child, even if he's a prophet.'"

Positive Role Models & Representations

Malala has a strong sense of mission from an early age and is determined to fix things that are wrong with the world, rather than go along to get along. At the same time, she's a normal young girl who squabbles with her brothers, gets into tiffs with her friends, loves Bollywood and American TV, and admits to being very competitive in school. Her father not only operates a school but instills a strong love of learning in his daughter; he shares and encourages her sense of mission -- and is very conflicted when she's nearly killed. Her mother is the family rock; kind, compassionate, and devout, she also has plenty of common sense.


Malala remembers nothing about being shot; she discusses it and her long stay in the hospital with an almost detached matter-of-factness. There's very little gory description. In one scene Malala is shocked to discover a pile of goat heads but quickly realizes it's the leftovers from a meal. The whole underlying reality, from being kept awake by the sound of gunfire to being threatened with death for going to school, is far darker than most kids' daily reality and may be too intense for sensitive readers. Malala speaks of people being beaten or killed by the Taliban for wearing the wrong clothes, being in a "Western" line of work, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


As observant Muslims, Malala and her friends and family dress conservatively by Western standards. When she first watches Ugly Betty on TV, she wonders if the characters' clothing is so skimpy because there's a clothing shortage in New York. Later, in England, she and her mother see scantily clad women outside in winter and marvel that they don't seem to feel the cold.


The book includes a message from Malala about the Malala Fund and its work and encourages readers to donate; it also mentions the adult version of I Am Malala as a source. Some mentions of commercial products and media, mostly to establish character and setting. Malala mentions being inspired by Ugly Betty and later meeting its star America Ferrera. As she becomes world-famous and celebrities send their support, she wonders, "How did Angelina Jolie even know who I was?" One of the things her younger brother likes best about life in the West is Nutella.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education and Changed the World is a memoir by Malala Yousafzai, co-written with Patricia McCormick. Malala was born in Pakistan in 1997 and became a household word in 2012, when she was shot at point-blank range by a member of the Taliban on her way home from school for advocating education for girls. She later was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and now lives in England with her family because it's not safe for them to return to Pakistan. Malala tells of being inspired at a young age to stand up for what was right, encouraged by her schoolteacher father; of the scary realities of life under the Taliban; and of squabbles with her brothers and tiffs with her friends as she becomes a symbol for the right of girls (and all kids) to get an education. She doesn't remember anything about being shot, and there's little gory detail. The underlying violence of life in Pakistan, particularly against people the Taliban don't approve of, looms throughout and may be too much for sensitive kids. It's an inspiring first-person story of what one teen can accomplish -- and what it costs her and her loved ones. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGisgis February 17, 2015

Not for pre-teens

I respectfully disagree with CommonSenseMedia that this book is a must-read for under 12. Although a good book and an inspiring story, I think it's for ol... Continue reading
Adult Written bySerenity N. December 13, 2016
Malala through out the story have faced lots of things happen to her. Stand up for what you think, that's the theme of this book. Malala know that the righ... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMoviegirl700 December 22, 2018

Mature pre-teens can handle violent content and teens will be sure to enjoy!

I really liked this book-I skimmed over it at 10 and read it all at 12 and instantly fell in love with it- pre-teens might have a tougher time enjoying it but o... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byBookworm1103 February 8, 2015

Very inspiring

This was a great book about Malala who is an amazing girls rights activist. This book was extremely inspiring! I think it could be a bit overwhelming for kids u... Continue reading

What's the story?

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has garnered world renown for her courageous advocacy of girls' education and her strong recovery from being nearly killed in an assassination attempt. Here, she tells her own story, of her parents' love, inspiration, and encouragement and how they led her to confront Islamic fundamentalists who were trying to keep girls from going to school in her native Pakistan. Her strong Muslim faith and personal determination gain her worldwide prominence -- and make her a target. Malala tells of her idyllic life pre-Taliban, how things changed, and how events unfolded until she was shot in the face on the way home from school. Now living in England with her family, she also tells about her more recent life and work.

Is it any good?

Many a kid, and many an adult, will find I AM MALALA an engaging, accessible introduction to Malala Yousafzai, education advocate, Nobel laureate, and 17 years old at the time of writing. It's an inspiring look at what one person can do to stand up to wrongdoers and make things better -- and a fascinating window into daily life in a culture that's very different from that of Western kids. 

It's also profoundly poignant, as Malala and her family are uprooted and have their lives changed beyond recognition, probably forever. "Sometimes I get tired," she writes. "Some days I wish I could just sit on the couch and watch Mind Your Language or Skype with friends. But I take the work I'm doing very seriously, always."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Malala thinks education is so important. Do you agree? How would you react if you weren't allowed to go to school? Why do you think the Taliban are so opposed to people getting an education? 

  • What's it like to read a memoir of a teenager? How is it different from a memoir of someone who's lived a long life? How does I Am Malala compare with other autobiographies you've read? 

  • How would you feel if you had to leave your home and everyone you knew because it wasn't safe for you to stay? Do you know anyone who's come from a situation like this?

Book details

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