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Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

4.5 2
by Jeanette Winter

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Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?

Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this


Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?

Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Winter’s (The Librarian of Basra) understated but powerful story is set in modern Afghanistan under the Taliban when girls were forbidden to attend school. Offering an adult’s perspective on the changes the country has seen, Nasreen’s grandmother serves as storyteller, her narrative obliquely noting that since the soldiers arrived in Herat, “The art and music and learning are gone. Dark clouds hang over the city.” After soldiers take Nasreen’s father away “with no explanation,” her mother defies the law by leaving home alone to look for him, never returning. Nasreen refuses to smile or talk, and her worried grandmother sneaks her into a “secret school” in a private home, where Nasreen eventually speaks again, makes friends and learns about Afghanistan’s brighter past. Though the child’s parents are still missing, her grandmother takes comfort in her realization that “the soldiers can never close the windows” that the school has opened for Nasreen. Framed by bright, striped borders, Winter’s handsome acrylic folk art effectively imparts the ominous omnipresence of Taliban soldiers, Nasreen’s social and intellectual transformation and the book’s hopeful final note. Ages 6–9. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
Nasreen is a young girl trapped by war. Living in Herat, Afghanistan, Nasreen suffers from the fact that her homeland is a place where girls are not allowed to attend school. One day Taliban soldiers come and take her father away. Nasreen's mother breaks the law to venture forth on the streets unaccompanied by a man in order to find out what has happened to her husband. Nasreen is left alone with her grandmother as neither of her parents return. Unable to speak because of her sadness, Nasreen withers away in her grandmother's home. Finally, and in desperation, Nasreen's grandmother risks everything to place her granddaughter in a secret school for girls. Every day Nasreen takes great risks to go to school in a nation where doing so could result in the worst consequences. At school Nasreen listens but does not speak. Finally, she connects with one of the other girls and not only is a friendship struck but also the walls blocking Nasreen's speech and emotions tumble down. Beautifully illustrated by the author, Nasreen's Secret School is a powerful book. The colorful and moving images linked to the sparsely crafted text leave the reader with a feeling of sadness and hope. This is a fine book and one that tells a memorable story of courage, loss, and resilience. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4—This story begins with an author's note that succinctly explains the drastic changes that occurred when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996. The focus is primarily on the regime's impact on women, who were no longer allowed to attend school or leave home without a male chaperone, and had to cover their heads and bodies with a burqa. After Nasreen's parents disappeared, the child neither spoke nor smiled. Her grandmother, the story's narrator, took her to a secret school, where she slowly discovered a world of art, literature, and history obscured by the harsh prohibitions of the Taliban. As she did in The Librarian of Basra (Harcourt, 2005), Winter manages to achieve that delicate balance that is respectful of the seriousness of the experience, yet presents it in a way that is appropriate for young children. Winter's acrylic paintings make effective use of color, with dramatic purples and grays, with clouds and shadows dominating the scenes in which the Taliban are featured, and light, hopeful pinks both framing and featured in the scenes at school. This is an important book that makes events in a faraway place immediate and real. It is a true testament to the remarkable, inspiring courage of individuals when placed in such dire circumstances.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Amid the many horrors of the Taliban reign in Afghanistan, one of the deepest human tragedies was the denial of education for young girls. They were shut in their homes, unable to learn and thrive. Nasreen is one of those children. After the disappearance of both her parents, she falls into a deep, sad silence. Nasreen's grandmother risks everything and takes her outside to a secret school, desperate for her to learn about the world and, she hopes, speak again. Telling her tale in a spare, first-person narration from the grandmother's point of view, Winter poignantly captures both the stronghold of the Taliban and a fervent sense of hope. Tight frames around the illustrations-one of the artists's trademarks-hold back bright patterns and bold hues, remarkably displaying that same tension in text and art. The author's note explains that the Taliban regime has been disbanded, but schools are still being bombed and danger remains. This story must be shouted from the rooftops-this book helps lead the chorus. (Informational picture book. 6-10)
From the Publisher
"Winter celebrates the importance of education, and the reminder to Western children that it is a privilege worth fighting for is a powerful one."—The Horn Book Magazine

"The personal nature of the story individualizes the conflict in Afghanistan...and the quiet, tightly focused approach helps make the situation accessible. The notion of school as a privilege revoked rather than a mandatory setnece may also elicit some thoughtful kid consideration."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Winter’s precise acrylics tell this story in matter-of-fact images: Taliban soldiers coming down the mountain to the city of Herat, “where art and music and learning once flourished”; a girl called Nasreen sitting at home, silent since her parents disappeared, forbidden to attend school; the grandmother, who tells the story, taking her to a secret girls’ school in a private home. The students’ brightly colored headscarves stand in for their bravery and eagerness to learn.”—The New York Times Book Review

"Winter tells another powerful story, based on true events, of an individual activist whose singular courage brings social change...Winter artfully distills enormous concepts into spare, potent sentences that celebrate Herat’s rich cultural, Islamic history...even as they detail the harrowing realities of Taliban rule. And in her signature style of deceptively simple compositions and rich, opaque colors, Winter’s acrylic paintings give a palpable sense of both Nasreen’s everyday terror and the expansive joy that she finds in learning."—Booklist

Product Details

Beach Lane Books
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File size:
8 MB
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

Meet the Author

Jeanette Winter is a renowned picture book creator whose acclaimed works include Nanuk the Ice Bear; Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan: Two Stories of Bravery; Henri’s Scissors; Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia; The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq; and Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan.

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Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Readingspeaks More than 1 year ago
I recently bought this book after reviewing the 2010 Jane Addams Book Award winners. I was instantly pulled into the courage and strength Nasreen and her grandmother had. With all that we hear in the media regarding the Taliban and issues surrounding the Middle East, it was so interesting to see a child's side of the struggles there. I am a classroom teacher and I think this would promote the most riveting classroom conversations. I know my students would be immeidately hooked to Nasreen's struggles and how she overcomes her challenges. I feel this book would be best for grade 2 and higher. Nasreen's grandmother will remind all who read this book that school is a gift not to be wasted....something American youth will be refreshed and reminded of.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave it four stars because nasreen was very brave when the soliders came and took her father away.I didn't give it five stars because it was sad when her mom and her father were not with her,but I thought it was a good book.