Kids Read: Pakistan

Here in the United States I’m never sure if we get an accurate picture of what is going on politically, socially, culturally, and economically in South Asia, where Pakistan is located. I’m often nervous to write about these countries because my limited knowledge about that area of the world leaves a lot of room for mistakes, and I know I have misconceptions. I’m glad there are authors like Pakistani-Canadian Rukhsana Khan who is sharing stories set in Pakistan about children doing kid things so we can share them with our children. I’m also glad there are picture book biographies being written about amazing Pakistani women. You can read more about these books below.

Yesterday I posted about a picture book on Instagram I have read before to myself and to children. I found out after I posted that parts of the story had been made up and the author has been involved in an ongoing scandal with his charity that was supposedly building schools. Thank you to the people who brought this to my attention. I would never intentionally post about a book that portrayed a group of people in a negative light, or about people being exploited. I am constantly learning and striving to do better.

If you know of any other great picture books set in, or about Pakistan, or by a Pakistani author/illustrator, please let me know so I can do a follow up post!

Kid Reads

Ruler of the Courtyard

“Bony beaks, razor claws, with GLITTERY eyes that wonder, wonder as they watch me, how easy it would be to make me scream.”

Ruler of the Courtyard, by Pakistani-Canadian author Rukhsana Khan (check out her other books too!!), & Gregory Christie, published by Viking (Penguin Putnam), is the story of a young girl named Saba who is very frightened by the chickens that roam her compound, until one day she encounters something even more frightening in the bathhouse while she is there alone – a curled up something she believes to be a snake. To escape she must learn to face her fears, and fight on her own. This is also a story about jumping to conclusions, as the curled up something turns out not to be a snake at all, but a rope used to tie up her grandmother’s pants. However, the incident has helped her overcome her fears and face the chickens that will never be able to torment her again.

We have checked out this book from the library a few times. Everytime we read it my girls go through the same range of emotions, even though they know how it turns out. The brilliant writing causes the reader to feel such rising tension each time Saba tries unsuccessfully to deal with the unknown creature; by the climax you are practically holding your breath. It makes for a very fun read aloud.

Malala’s Magic Pencil

“We……raise our voices for those in need….help people in danger, even if they are an ocean away….think of the world as a family.”

Malala’s Magic Pencil, by Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by husband and wife team Kerascoet, and published by Little Brown and Company, is a picture book biography of Malala’s childhood in Pakistan. The book uses the frame of Malala’s wish for a magic pencil to fix all the world’s problems to describe life in Pakistan. It gently explains how, as a woman in Pakistan, she may one day be forced to serve her brothers, not fulfill her own wishes. She came to realize not everyone, especially not all girls, have the luxury of being able to go to school. When women were forbidden from going to school, she realized an ordinary pencil could become magic; she could write about the plight of people in her country and send her messages to the world. Once she started, she couldn’t stop sharing her story in writing and in speeches she gave. Others have joined her to make their voices heard, to stand up for what they believe in.

This is a powerful story of how one person can indeed make the world a better place. It is inspiring and validating for our children to hear that other children’s voices have been heard around the world, and that they have been able to make a noticable difference. I love that she took the idea of a magic pencil, and used it to show that magic is actually found in the ordinary, and can be found in each of us.

Back matter includes a letter from Malala to the reader, as well as photographs and more information about her life. She also has an autobiography available for young adults, and an autobiography for adults, more about how she stood up against the Taliban.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Roots and Wings: How Shahzi Sikander Became an Artist

“Lahore, the city I live in, is rich with colorand scent. Hibiscus, rose, car exhaust.Men sell bright-orange sweet jalebiand fragrant strings of jasmine onthe street. Women wear the flowersaround their wrists and necks.”

Roots and Wings: How Shahzi Sikander Became an Artist, byPakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander & Amy Novesky, illustrated by Hanna Barczyk, published by The Museum of Modern Art, tells the story of artist Shahzia Sikander’s roots in Pakistan – her family life, her education at home and at school, and the cultural richness she was exposed to in Lahore. It also tells of how those roots allowed her to grow wings and fly to other parts of the world where she has continued to explore and create.

The poetic text, placed alongside bold, fantastical illustrations make this a book we keep returning to.  My girls love reading about artists when they were children, about what inspired them. After reading they are often inspired to create their own art mimicking the artist. 

I borrowed this book from our local library.

 Nadia’s Hands

“‘ You know what Nadia?’ she whispered ‘When I look at your hands, it’s as if I”m looking at my past and future at the same time. Did you know that?'”

Nadia’s Hands by Karen English & Jonathan Weiner, published by Boyds Mills Press, is the story of Nadia, a Pakistani-American girl who is asked to be flower girl in her Aunt’s wedding. Nadia finds she is both nervous and excited, especially about the mehndi her aunt will put on her hands, which will stay for a while. She is nervous about how the other children in school will react on Monday. By the end of the wedding day, Nadia has found she likes her hands with mehndi on them, and decides she will show her class at their share time.

This book introduces the art of mehndi, an important part of Pakistani culture to young readers in a fun way. It also gives readers a glimpse into what family life and a wedding may be like for a Pakistani family, while delving into some of the internal struggles a child may have when they feel they are different from others because of their culture or background. This book would provide a great opportunity to talk about how cultural differences make the world a richer place, and how we all need to be accepting of those differences.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

King for a Day

“Big kids, little kites, fancy and plain. Even kites made of old newspapers. Sometimes I catch them in groups. Making wide circles around clusters of kites, Falcon slashes through their strings.”

King for a Day by Pakistani-Canadian author Rukhsana Khan (also author of Ruler of the Courtyard), illustrated by Christiane Kromer, published by Lee & Low Books, tells the story of Malik, a boy living in Lahore, Pakistan, during the festival of Basant, when kite fights dance across the sky. From the roof, Malik sets his kite against the bully next door in a series of tense battles, from which Malik emerges victorious. He goes on to take down other kites while his brother and sister collect them making a pile on the roof. While he sits alone on the roof, enjoying his victories, he sees the bully take a kite from a young girl on the street below. Malik shows us his true character when he drops the bully’s old kite down to her before heading in to swap stories of the day with his family.

I think many kids around the world can empathize with Malik as he hears the bully taunt his sister, and cheer with him as he uses his brains, and kite, to take the bully down. While the text does not mention that Malik is disabled, he is pictured in a wheelchair throughout the book. I applaud this representation of a differently abled person in a book that is not about the disability at all.

As with Ruler of the Courtyard, Khan expertly builds tension during the kite fight with the bully. I have found her books thought provoking and fun to read aloud.

The illustrations in King for a Day are stunning. They are collaged with multiple layers and vividly express the joy and festive atmosphere of Basant. I love the use of different cloth and textiles adding dimension to the illustrations.
Back matter provides more information about Basant, how it started, and how it is celebrated in Lahore Pakistan.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

If you’re going to add any of these books to your personal collection, please consider purchasing using my affiliate link. supports local bookstores by donating a portion of every sale.

Adult Read

This week I also read A Season for Martyrs by up-and-coming Pakistani novelist and journalist Bina Shah. The main narrative follows a young man, Ali, who is struggling to find his place as a journalist covering the arrival of Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned home to Karachi after eight years in exile, his secret relationship with a forbidden Hindu woman, losing a friend in a deadly explosion, and getting involved in the People’s Resistance Movement. In alternating chapters, we get a a history of Pakistan from the time when mythical gods once protected the land, up to Bhutto’s childhood.

I enjoyed reading this book, but found myself more drawn into the modern storyline. I have thought about reading the main narrative without the historical chapters, then going back and reading the historical thread straight through separately, and may try to do that this week. I’m sure this is due to my reading books in such short snippets throughout the day. I get lost with anything that isn’t a straightforward narrative.

It was interesting to read about how Ali’s politics differed so much from his parents, and the results of that on their lives. I am not usually drawn into stories that revolve so much around politics, but I enjoyed this story, probably because the characters were well drawn and seemed human. Therefore, I was able to learn more about Pakistani politics in the beginning of the 21st century. If you’re looking for a book which gives you a glimpse into Pakistan’s past, as well as its present I recommend you check this one out.


Today I have a pot of Pakistani Nihari bubbling away on the stove that has my mouth watering. It’s been on since 9 am, so I don’t know how I’m going to make it until dinner. I’ll probably have to taste test a few times.

I decided to make Nihari because we always enjoy lazing around on Sunday afternoons watching football, followed by eating slow cooked comfort food. This recipe looked perfect!

You can grab the recipe on Mint Candy Designs or from my Pinterest link below.

I’d love to hear what books, projects, artists, music, and other fun things you’d recommend from Pakistan. Email me, message me, or comment/DM on Instagram.