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The Breadwinner, Book 1
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Breadwinner is about a young girl in Afghanistan who pretends to be a boy so that she can provide for her poor family, defying the Taliban's harsh restrictions on women's freedom. Deborah Ellis first published the book in 2000 as the start of a trilogy, and the 2017 movie tie-in edition includes images from the animated film. Daily life is filled with peril, from beatings and the threat of imprisonment and worse by the Taliban to the fear of accidentally stepping on a land mine. There's a significant amount of violence: physical assaults, brutal punishments, stories of terrible deaths, and dogs devouring bodies. But the takeaway message is about strength, resiliency, and hope. The book ends with an alarming development that leaves Parvana's story very much up in the air, encouraging readers to continue with the trilogy.
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What's the story?
THE BREADWINNER is 11-year-old Parvana, who helps her father to and from the Kabul market to read, write, and sell goods to support their family. When he's abruptly arrested and her mother's beaten, Parvana's family -- her mother, two sisters, and a baby -- are desperate: Under Taliban rule, women and girls can't leave the house, shop, or even fetch water alone. Parvana agrees to cut her hair and wear her late brother's clothes to work and shop for the family. She joins up with Shauzia, a former classmate who's also pretending to be a boy, and the two become fast friends. Meanwhile, Parvana's mother recovers from her grief and injuries and, with help from a free-spirited friend, starts working to secure a safe future for her daughters.
Is it any good?
This moving book is an illuminating look into the distressing plight of women and girls under oppressive Taliban rule in Afghanistan and how the spirit of resistance can thrive. In The Breadwinner, Parvana and the women around her help each other discover their strength and start building a lifeline. Author Deborah Ellis presents a strong rebuke of the Taliban while depicting Afghan culture and history with warmth, affection, and respect. Parvana's deepening empathy for her mother and older sister, whose lives were so dramatically upended by the Taliban, is touching, and her clever boldness an inspiration.
It can be grim reading, especially for readers unfamiliar with the Taliban or the oppression of women, and could prompt discussions about security, faith, and gender. It's a surprisingly quick read, and a solid choice for children interested in history and social justice.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the Taliban restricts women's education and movement, as described in The Breadwinner. Why would a ruling power do this? Who benefits from this arrangement?
Masquerading as a boy, Parvana takes on great responsibilities -- but she also feels a sense of freedom. Have you ever felt that way?
How does this depiction of Afghanistan compare with what you might have pictured from other stories or the news?
- Author: Deborah Ellis
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Groundwood
- Publication date: August 1, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 160
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), iBooks, Kindle
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