29 Oct / Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan | Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter
Earlier this month, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai made world history by becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She shares the award for 2014 with India’s Kailash Satyarthi: the pair were cited “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” So recent is this October 10, 2014 announcement that such news couldn’t be included in author/illustrator Jeanette Winter’s upcoming flip-over double book, which celebrates two inspiring, courageous young heroes from Pakistan.
Malala is undoubtedly the more renowned. She’s no stranger to the Nobel, as she was also a 2013 nominee. Thankfully, hers is a story still being written and, hopefully, expectedly, will prove be a long and fruitful journey that will fill many volumes. She is the girl who defied the Taliban, insisting on her right to go to school. By 11, she was publicly speaking about the transformative power of girls’ education. At 15, she survived a vicious shooting to her head and neck. At 16, she addressed the United Nations with her now-iconic rallying cry: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.”
But almost two decades before the world heard Malala, another child from Pakistan fought tirelessly for children’s rights. He, too, was gunned down … but he did not survive. Iqbal Masih was just 12. He had already addressed international audiences, and been recognized by the United National High Commissioner for Human Rights as “‘a champion of the fight in Pakistan against the contemporary forms of slavery which affects millions of children worldwide.'”
Iqbal knew about slavery from experience. At 4, his desperately poor parents bonded him to a carpet maker in return for a $12 loan. He was chained to a loom and his tiny fingers, with their ability to make intricate patterns, earned him just 20 cents a day. When he was 10, the government outlawed Peshgi, “the loans that hold children like Iqbal in bondage.” Newly freed Iqbal “[flew] through his studies” while he worked to liberate fellow children throughout his country. He intended to study law; he had already been accepted by Brandeis University on full scholarship whenever he was ready. But his message of freedom was not welcome by all, and death threats eventually became a bullet that killed him on April 16, 1995.
“The story of Iqbal Masih has stayed with me since I read his obituary on April 19, 1995,” writes Winter in her introductory note. She “thought again of Iqbal” when she read about the attack that miraculously did not silence Malala on October 9, 2012, some 17 years later. “Two courageous children whose bravery transcended their youth came together in my mind – and led to this book.” Either of these children’s stories could surely stand alone, but bound together, their impact is not just doubly strong, but exponentially influential.
Winter is a renowned veteran of ‘show, don’t-tell’-storytelling, and nowhere is that more compellingly evident than in the wordless middle two-page spread in which both children are so affectingly presented: while Malala is depicted in full color, tightly holding a kite in flight, Iqbal stands in shades of grey, his kite aloft but is unattached from his outstretched hand. Iqbal may no longer be of this world, but his fight for freedom continues to soar, especially as his untethered kite approaches ever closer to Malala’s expansive orbit. Her work is also Iqbal’s, just as it should be every one of ours. Like Iqbal and Malala, the power of one is in each of us: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen, [will] change the world.”