Malala's Magic Pencil

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Malala's Magic Pencil Book Poster Image
Nobel winner tells what inspired activism in relatable tale.

Parents say

age 5+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 5+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Intro to young Nobel Prize winner and to Taliban. Pictures of Pakistani life, Pakistani dress, and the United Nations. Pictures of people around the world carrying signs in different languages. More detailed information about Malala's work at end.

Positive Messages

Education is important, and everyone deserves a good education. Girls can speak up. Kids can stand up for what they believe in, even in the face of violent repression. When you speak out, others may join in to "raise our voices for those in need ... help people in danger, even if they are an ocean away ... think of the world as a family."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Malala is the epitome of a young, female, positive role model. She's socially conscious and cares about those who have less opportunity. She values her own education and studies hard. She triumphs over an implicitly violent attack. She writes and speaks out widely, and is pictured speaking at the U.N. and to a video camera. "Wishing wasn't enough. Someone needed to speak out. Why not me?" She speaks "for all the girls in my valley couldn't speak for themselves."

Violence & Scariness

The violent attack against Malala is written in vague, nonspecific language, appropriate for the age group. She says "powerful and dangerous men declared that girls were forbidden from attending school. They walked the streets of our city now. They carried weapons." Later, the text on an all-black page says, "My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed."


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Malala's Magic Pencil is by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl whose work as an education activist gained international recognition, and who was the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. There are a slew of kids' books about this inspirational young hero, but this one is by Malala herself, and it focuses on her childhood, offering the sort of personal details that make her early life highly accessible to young readers. The violent attack against her -- when she was shot by the Taliban -- is handled gently and indirectly for the age group, saying only that "dangerous men tried to silence me, but they failed." The book's a powerful introduction to this young, contemporary Muslim female role model and her work.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySaulgood December 30, 2017

Truth that kids can digest

Malala tells the bold un-pretty truth of her life and others. She makes it appropriate for young children but still maintains the power of her influence. She in... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAgnete October 14, 2017

Love this book

Really educational

What's the story?

MALALA'S MAGIC PENCIL begins with Malala as a schoolgirl watching a TV show about a boy with a magic pencil. She wishes she had a magic pencil to get her family the things they want, but it never materializes. Then she sees other kids in her neighborhood forced to dig through trash to support their families, and her sense of social justice deepens. When the Taliban forbids girls to go to school, she begins to write and speak out, traveling around Pakistan, and drawing international attention and support. The Taliban tries to "silence" her, but Malala persists, even speaking at the United Nations. She says she at last "finds the magic I was looking for -- in my words and in my work."

Is it any good?

You can't ask for a better female role model than young Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and this picture book autobiography's a perfect introduction. Malala's Magic Pencil is told in her voice and focuses on her childhood, making her relatable. She wants a magic pencil like she saw on TV so she can "put a lock on my door so my brothers couldn't bother me," and draw "a proper ball, so my brothers and I no longer had to play with an old sock stuffed with rubbish." But when Malala speaks out for education, adults will understand from the illustration that she's speaking on an international stage and at the United Nations, and will know the horrific story of how the Taliban shot her. The book wisely allows families to choose how to introduce the more violent and upsetting details.

The art is by Kerasoët, a pseudonym for a husband-wife illustration duo, and it's hugely appealing, giving glimpses of Pakistani life and culture. Malala looks like the smart, strong girl most kids would want to be friends with. Though the text never mentions she's Muslim, Malala's pictured wearing a headscarf whenever she's outside. And while her magic pencil draws her wishes in gold, we see the dusty streets, some buildings in rubble, and the "dangerous men" on the street with weapons slung over their shoulders. Biographical notes and photos give the story deeper context.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the advocacy work Malala does in Malala's Magic Pencil. What are the issues she cares about? What did she do to promote them?

  • What issues and injustices do you care about? How do you think you can do something about them? Can you write letters and speak out, as Malala did?

  • What does life in Pakistan look like in the story? What can you tell about it from the pictures? How is it similar to your daily life? How is it different?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong girl characters

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