I recently discovered a really wonderful podcast called “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide.” Hosts Ann Braden and Saadia Faruqi aim to “share conversations with librarians, educators, and readers about the children’s books that can be bridges across our cultural divides…the books that can open minds and the books that can be the lifeline a child needs to remember they’re not alone.” I love the concept of this and while I have only managed to listen to one episode so far, I think it will continue to be on my podcast playlist.
As long-time followers of this blog know, I became involved with the amazing Multicultural Children’s Book Day over 5 years ago. At the time, I really didn’t think about whether or not we read multicultural books, but I did pick up just about anything for my children to read. Now that I have participated and become a co-host in the yearly event, I’m more aware about just how important books are that show “the other,” or those not within the majority. Episode 5 of Lifelines is about just that, with a main focus on the wonderful book Wishtree, by Kathrine Applegate. Wishtree talks about the other in America, but the notion of the other can be found everywhere, so it is a really far reaching topic.
All of this is leading up to the fact that over the weekend, I devoured the brand new book, Amal Unbound, by Aisha Saeed. This book takes place in a small Pakistani village and focuses on 12 year old Amal. She dreams of being a teacher, but those dreams get crushed with two incidents – the birth of her 3rd sister and an accidental insult to her villages “ruling” family.
The birth of her sister shouldn’t seem like something that would abruptly change her life, but her parents are distraught when her latest sibling is born and is yet again a girl. Amal’s mother goes into a deep depression and, as eldest daughter, Amal is expected to stop going to school and take care of the house and children. All of this causes Amal to pay additional attention to the fact that people are constantly putting down girls.
The event that truly changes her life happens during an unusual solo trip to the market. While there, she accidentally disrespects the feudal landlord ruling over her village, not realizing who he was. Since her parents owe him money, as do most people in the village, he decides that the way to deal with her disrespect and clear her parents’ debt is for Alma to work as one of his servants. While Amal and her parents believe they can pay back the debt and get Amal back, really, she is an indentured servant to Jawad Sahib. She has to find a way to get along with the other servants, who initially distrust her, and to not allow this prison of sorts completely crush her spirit.
Amal Unbound is impressive because not only does it take place in a Pakistani village that most Americans will never get a chance to see, but it looks at social class, sexism, poverty, the way the “ruler” in a feudal society has such control over a village, and the violence that happens to keep that family’s power in place. The story is a work of fiction, but could easily be true.
*note – Thank you to @KidLitExchange for a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own