The Breadwinner, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Breadwinner, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Harsh but hopeful story about brave girl defying Taliban.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Very broad overview of Afghanistan's history. Vivid depiction of Kabul's transformation under the rule of the Taliban and the devastating consequences for families. Shows value of literacy and independence. Depicts ways people can resist and stand up to abusive power. Author's note provides more context, with recent history of Afghanistan, and a glossary defines key Afghan terms.

Positive Messages

Hardship is easier to bear with support from family and friends. Unusual times require ordinary people to do unusual things. Even in dire circumstances, courage helps cultivate hope. It's possible to find ways to transcend the most oppressive circumstances, though doing so may involve taking great risks.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Parvana is both cautious and courageous, willing to take necessary risks without being reckless. She's also clever, able to persevere in very difficult circumstances, navigate unfamiliar settings, and stay true to her family's values without drawing unwanted attention from the Taliban. And Parvana is compassionate, helping others in need and finding novel ways to support her family logistically and emotionally. Her mother suffers greatly from physical and emotional trauma but rallies, collaborating with a friend and a secret women's organization to educate girls, produce a magazine for Afghan women, and take bold steps to try to secure her family's safety. Several men are shown to support women and girls, including Parvana's father, who made sure his daughters were educated, and unidentified husbands who help the women's organization.


Danger is ever present, and men, women, and children are fearful of beating or imprisonment by the Taliban or being killed by mines or bombs. Children dig up human bones to earn money. Father lost leg in school bombing; child overhears woman assaulted in home; men, women, and children are beaten; children witness thieves getting arms chopped off in public punishment; child recounts violent deaths of family; woman describes seeing wild dogs eating bodies.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymrbeast February 2, 2019
Adult Written byhanzoisaloser May 8, 2019

pretty bad tbh

uhm, read it in school one time. didnt rlly like it
Kid, 11 years old December 15, 2019

An inspiring book about the realities of life today.

This is an enjoyable read, although it is sad. It is set in Taliban Afghanistan, so, as you can probably expect, it contains violence. The main character is an... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byTheKidsSideOfTh... May 16, 2019

An amazing representation of what has happened in our world.

I think The Breadwinner shows how people in Afghanistan have to work for to support each other. The Main protagonist is very cleaver and kindhearted, never for... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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