The Breadwinner: a graphic novel

Authored by Deborah Ellis
Illustrated by Nora Twomey
Published by Oxford University Press

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The Breadwinner is a moving and thought-provoking tale set in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

This graphic novel tells us about a family living under Taliban rule, as seen through the eyes of the youngest daughter Parvana. Parvana helps her father make money for the family at his market stall, but this is problematic as there are many restrictions placed on girls and women by the Taliban: they are not able to go to school or work outside the house. Things get worse when the father is put in prison – how can the family survive?

The pictures in this book are stunning, and help readers to imagine how Afghanistan looked before and during Taliban rule. The story is engaging, and it is an important tale to tell to learn about the hardships of living under Taliban rule. Parvana is very brave and a role model for girls from around the world. It is a tale of family, loyalty and friendship, and also of contrasts with cruelty and characters who demonstrate humanity at its worst.

This book could be an excellent resource in the classroom but needs to be used sensitively and appropriately. I would not place this in the school library for anyone to borrow; while there is no violence depicted, it does have a comic style and might be borrowed by younger children who may not have the maturity to understand the story fully.

While I think this would be a fantastic book to share with all UKS2 classes. I think teachers need to ensure that they give children some background information – for example, one of the authorities shouts “This man is an enemy of Islam he’s got forbidden books and he’s teaching the women with them”. It is vital that teachers explain to children that although this is the view of the Taliban, it is not a view held by the majority of Muslims around the world, who believe that women should be educated. Islam has done a tremendous amount to improve the rights of women in society. There is some excellent historical information inside the back cover of the book, which is useful to read alongside the story.

I think The Breadwinner would be fantastic to read this book alongside I am Malala and Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird (or extracts from these books), as they all address political issues through the lives and eyes of children.