The Breadwinner Trilogy – written by Deborah Ellis
This trilogy contains three separate books: The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City. The Breadwinner has won several awards, including the Peter Pan Prize and the Middle East Book Award in 2002. Deborah Ellis herself has been honored with several prizes according to GoodReads: The Governor General's Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, the University of California's Middle East Book Award, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award and the Vicky Metcalf Award. Deborah Ellis spent several months in refugee camps in Pakistan interviewing women and girls to discover their stories.
The first book, The Breadwinner, tells the story of Parvana, an eleven-year-old Afghan girl who, because of her father’s arrest and disappearance, ends up pretending to be a boy so she can be free to earn money on the streets of Kabul. During this time of making the only money the family has, Parvana makes a friend, Shauzia, also living on the streets as a boy. And the family is helped by their former physical education teacher, a Mrs. Weera. This book for middle grade readers explores the harsh realities we can only imagine in living with the Taliban restrictions. Women and girls have been kicked out of their jobs, cannot even walk the streets without a male accompanying them. The family’s home has been destroyed and they now live in one room in one part of a bombed-out building. Without telling the ending, tragedy occurs and Parvana ends up alone, on her own, and the reader moves into book two, Parvana’s Journey. Finally, book three, Mud City, tells the story of Shauzia, whose biggest wish is to get to the sea, and to a France that has lavender fields like the magazine picture she carries always.
Parvana shows the courage and resourcefulness of a young girl as she wanders, ending up with a young boy with one leg, a baby, and then a younger girl. The four have a dream-like existence in a valley until it too is destroyed by bombs. Shauzia’s story shares the heartbreak of refugees in a camp in Pakistan, the challenges of surviving in a city, Peshawar, that has thousands of children and adults on the streets begging or trying to get work in order to buy food.
I admire Deborah Ellis for leading us on a journey of these children’s stories. I don’t think I will ever understand how people can be so cruel to one another. And Ellis shows so well the resilience and resourcefulness of children, who, when needed, can step forward at a very young age to do what is needed to help themselves and their families/friends survive. Walking in Parvana’s or Shauzia’s shoes can be a powerful experience if you choose to use these books as readalouds. I imagine many conversations about survival and hope, even in the face of extreme hunger. There is quite a lot of violence in the books, but I would recommend them for 5th grade and up.
Tara Smith, who blogs at A Teaching Life in this Nerdy Book Club post, wrote an excellent review of these books, including the 4th one, continuing story of Parvana. She has used the books with her 6th graders and shares why they are an important group of books for students to read.
If you wish to see more about the tragedy of Afghans living in Pakistani refugee camps, here is a photo article from the New York Times, April 2013. The Breadwinner was first published in 2000.