50 pages 1 hour read

Malala Yousafzai, Patricia McCormick

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers Edition)

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | YA | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Malala Yousafzai was 15 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for girls’ rights to education. In her memoir, written with young adult author Patricia McCormick, Malala describes her childhood in Pakistan before the attack and the life-changing experiences that followed this pivotal event. This Young Readers Edition, I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (2013), is a redaction of Malala’s similarly titled adult memoir, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. From a young age, Malala has promoted the value of education, the importance of speaking out for one’s beliefs, and people’s fundamental responsibility to help others. Malala’s courage and advocacy for peace and education earn her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. I Am Malala was a 2015 International Literacy Association Teachers’ Choice Selection. The memoir earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was named a CBC Children’s Choice Book Awards Finalist.

Plot Summary

Malala’s memoir begins on the day she was shot, Tuesday, October 9, 2012. It is an ordinary day, and she has exams at school. She and her best friend, Moniba, go home on a later bus, which is stopped by men in white robes. One asks for Malala, and that is all she remembers.

Malala then takes readers back in time to her childhood days before the Taliban. Malala and her family live in Mingora, a city in the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan. They are of Pashtun heritage, an ethnic group with origins in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Malala lives with her mother, Toor Pekai, her father, Ziauddin, and her two younger brothers: Khushal, who is 14 at the start of Malala’s story, and Atal, who is 10. Malala’s father is the principal and a teacher at the Khushal School, which he founded. Malala loves school. From the time she is a baby, she visits the school with her parents, and she cannot wait until she is old enough to attend. She is quick to learn and has a competitive edge, striving to be top in all her classes.

Malala’s situation is unusual for girls in Pakistan. Culturally, girls there are not valued as highly as boys. Malala is acutely aware of the disparity in how women and men are treated. Many girls do not attend school past the age of 10, if at all. Instead, children attend madrasas, where they learn about Islam and the Quran. Malala’s own mother does not know how to read. Malala feels fortunate to attend the Khushal School and expand her horizons. She is also fortunate that both her parents encourage her to follow her dreams. Her father, especially, is proud of Malala’s spirit and desire to learn and assures her that she can do anything. Malala, in turn, idolizes her kind, intelligent father.

When Malala is 10, the Taliban move into Swat. The militant group capitalizes on the fear caused by a devastating earthquake in 2005. Maulana Fazlullah, part of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Mohammadi, known as the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law , begins broadcasting as the Radio Mullah, instructing people to adopt sharia, an extreme form of Islam, and to reject “un-Islamic” behaviors and ideas. Fazlullah believes all girls should be in purdah (unseen) and should not be in school.

The Taliban grow in power, bombing schools, targeting those who oppose them, and publicly flogging and killing individuals who break their rules. Malala’s father courageously speaks out against Taliban oppression, petitioning the government for aid. Malala is outraged that the Taliban want to suppress girls’ right to go to school. She writes a blog for the BBC, gives media interviews, and is featured in a New York Times documentary about life under the Taliban. Malala decides she wants to be a politician and effect social change.

Armed conflicts between the Pakistani army and the Taliban rage through Mingora, forcing Malala’s family to briefly flee their home. Although the Taliban retreat from Swat, their ideology and agents are still present. Both Malala and her father are on the Taliban’s kill list, but they continue their education advocacy work. Malala wins a national peace prize.

Taliban assassins attack Malala on her way home from school. They shoot her in the head, and their shots also strike two other girls. Malala awakens in a hospital in Birmingham, England. The bullet severed her left facial nerve and sent bone shards into her brain lining. She suffers hearing loss, swelling of the brain, and terrible headaches. Malala has no memory of the incident and has trouble communicating. She worries primarily that her father is also injured and that her family cannot pay for medical treatment. Doctors reassure her on both counts.

Malala’s family finally joins her in England, and Malala learns that Fazlullah ordered her attack. Fazlullah promises to try again if Malala returns to Pakistan. Malala receives an overwhelming outpouring of support from people around the globe—many of them children. After months of physical therapy and surgeries, Malala and her family settle into their new life in England. They all miss Pakistan terribly, but Malala is thankful to be alive. Malala’s father receives a position as Pakistan education attaché, and Malala and her brothers attend school. Malala believes she must use God’s blessing of a second chance at life to help others. She vows to continue her work towards universal peace and educational rights.

The Young Readers Edition includes supplementary material, including a map of Pakistan, a glossary, and a timeline featuring brief, chronological summaries of Pakistan’s history from its formation in 1947 up to events in 2014. Two sections of color photographs offer glimpses of Malala’s family, her life in Pakistan, her hospital stay, and her international advocacy. An Epilogue added in the 2016 edition describes her family’s new life in Birmingham and Malala’s Nobel Prize win.