Kids Read … Afghanistan

Over on Instagram, we’ve been awed by the voracious reading appetite and excellent book reviews from Lori who blogs and bookstagrams her family’s reading tour of the world. Every week at Kids Read the World, Lori and her children explore a different country through picture books. We’re delighted to repost her family’s exploration of books from and about Afghanistan…

By Lori of Kids Read the World

I found so many great books from and about Afghanistan this week. I have heard of a few more I will be adding to my list when I can get my hands on a copy. I don’t want to add books to my lists if I haven’t read them myself.

My girls learned so much this week and asked so many great questions. We had very gentle conversations about war, how girls in other countries don’t have access to education, refugee camps, child labor, Afghanistan’s history of being an artistic center, and strong female leaders. It has been heartbreaking as an adult watching the news as things in Afghanistan have deteriorated and the Taliban has advanced through the country. I didn’t plan to read books from Afghanistan purposefully at this time, but I’m glad we did. It helped me understand what was happening better, and reminded me how important it is for our children to be raised as global citizens.

There are a few books by authors from/born in Afghanistan on this list, and I hope to be able to find more. If you know of any, please pass them on.

We extended our reading and conversations with a great Afghanistan unit study from Thistles and Biscuits, which you can read more about below.

If you know of any other great picture books set in, or about Afghanistan, please let me know so I can do a follow up post!

The Library Bus, by Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard (Pajama Press)

“‘Pari, when you go to school next year, I want you to study hard. Never stop learning. Then you will be free.”‘

The Library Bus, by Afghan-author Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard, is the story of Pari, a young girl who helps her mother in her library bus, the only one in Kabul. Together they travel to a small village and a refugee camp, as Pari discovers the importance and luxury of education. While on their journey, Pari learns that girls were not always allowed to attend school, and that many still do not have access to schools where they live.

This book packs so much into its 32 pages. It is fiction written in a way that opens up so many doors for discussion about Afghan culture. The city of Kabul is mentioned, a small village is shown, the language of Farsi is included in a few places, female dress is shown and discussed, there is mention of the Grand Bazaar, and the mother and daughter travel to a refugee camp. My 4 year old stopped me on every page to ask questions, which is awesome. This book was so accessible for both my kids and gave them such a rich introduction to the country of Afghanistan.

This book includes a note from the author in back matter explaining why he felt it was important to write this book. There is also information about refugee camps and organizations who work to help those displaced by war or natural disasters.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan by Ann Redisch Stampler & Carol Liddiment (Albert Whitman & Company)

“‘I don’t worry about such things,’ replied the shoemaker. He cut up his last small apricot and gave his guest the biggest slice. ‘If one path is blocked, God leads me to another, and everything turns out just as it should.’”

The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan is set in the Afghan city of Kabul and tells the story of a shah who is curious about the lives of his people, so dresses as a servant and heads out into the city. He comes across a man and a woman in the poorest part of the city, who seem endlessly happy, and wonders how that could be. The man, a shoemaker, explains that they have just what they need, and that he does not worry about what may happen in the future because he has faith God will lead him where he needs to go. The shah then decides to test the man’s faith, so puts a series of obstacles in his path, which results in the shoemaker becoming the shah’s advisor when he sees just how much faith can do.

My girls and I really enjoyed the surprise ending to this story. I don’t want to give it away, but it is very clever. Reading this book led to a good conversation about faith and God and different religions. It also led to some swordplay, so be prepared for that. I did not realize, partially because I had never thought about it, that there had been Jews living in Afghanistan for over 1,000 years through the mid-twentieth century. I did a quick Google search and found there is still one remaining Jewish man living in Afghanistan, in Kabul, who looks after the city’s only synagogue, but he is planning to leave within the next few months due to fears the Taliban will return because U.S. and NATO troops are withdrawing from the country.

Back matter includes an author’s note about the origins and different versions of this story.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

The Silly Chicken by Idries Shah and illustrated by Jeff Jackson (Hoopoe Books)

“Thoroughly alarmed, all the people packed up their most precious things and began to run to get away from the earth.”

The Silly Chicken, by Afghan author Idries Shah and illustrated by Jeff Jackson, published by Hoopoe Books, a division of The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, is one in a series of children’s stories by the same author focused on stories told for generations in Central Asia and the Middle East. In this story, a man teaches a chicken how to speak human, and then all the townspeople believe the chicken when he tells them the earth is going to swallow them up. They race around trying to save themselves, only to find out the chicken was just talking nonsense. From then on, they use the chicken as a source of laughter and jokes.

This is such a fun silly story to read aloud. It is a perfect one for us to read this week, especially because we are scheduled to get chickens this weekend (wish me luck!). We all have chicken fever. The bright, bold, illustrations are lively and definitely add to the humor and playfulness of the story. The camel’s side eye alone had me cracking up throughout the whole book.
This Afghan author has other books available in English that I will be keeping my eyes open for.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Rumi: Whirling Dervish by Demi (Marshall Cavendish Corporation)

“God has hidden himself in the sea

and revealed the foam.

He has hidden himself in the wind

and revealed the dust.”

Rumi: Whirling Dervish is an absolutely stunning picture book biography of mystical poet Rumi, who was born in Afghanistan in the 13th century. Rumi, who was born in 1207, moved with his family to Turkey when Genghis Khan invaded Afghanistan with his army. After marrying and having two sons, Rumi began teaching more students. He met wonderful teachers throughout his life, but what he really wanted was to experience the spirit of God within himself. In 1244 he met Shamsuddin whom he studied under for 3 years and his spirit was awakened. He became a spiritual teacher and poet. He also discovered that when he was spinning he felt closer to God, so he taught his students the circling dance, and they became known as the whirling dervishes. Rumi told many teaching stories about God because he wanted people to find God everywhere in everything.

We love a good picture book biography, and this is a great one. I love how picture book biographies teach my little ones not only about a person, but about the land and culture where they lived, as well as teach valuable lessons about being human. Rumi: Whirling Dervish includes lines from Rumi’s writing throughout the story of his life. The illustrations make this book stand apart from many others. They were inspired by Eastern culture in the 13th century, and are painted with Turkish and Chinese inks and gold overlays. They are truly works of art.

Make sure your little ones have plenty of room to spin after reading this book!

I borrowed this book from our local library.

The Most Beautiful Village in the World by Yutaka Kobayashi (Museyon)

“Plums, cherries, pears, pistachios. It’s spring. The village of Paghman is filled with flowers.”

The Most Beautiful Village in the World tells the story of a family who live in a small village, surrounded by fruit trees, which they gather and sell in town. Young Yamo makes his first trip to the market with his father, and sets off to sell cherries with his donkey. He meets a man who has returned from the same war Yamo’s brother is off fighting in, which worries Yamo because the man has lost his leg. When he meets back up with his father, he and Yamo buy a pure white lamb, which they are excited to take home. Yamo is excited to show the new lamb to his brother when he returns. The last page of the book says “In the winter, the village was destroyed in the war. It no longer exists.”

After reading about Yamo and his father, and seeing how they live, knowing that their village was destroyed in the war is very heavy. The author based this story on a trip he took to Afghanistan, the people he met there, and the fact that the village he visited was in fact bombed and destroyed. This is the reality of war.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur, Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt & Golsa Yaghoobi (Yali Books)

“Goharshad did not cry. And though she did not know exactly what being ‘brave with beauty’ meant, she vowed, “I will not be afraid. Not now. Not ever! One day I will make the most beautiful things in the world.’”

Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan is the historical fiction story of Queen Goharshad’s life in 14th century Afghanistan. I knew nothing about her until reading this picture book biography. From a young age, while her brothers were interested in fighting and combat, she was interested in the arts and all things that brought beauty into the world. When she married the king of the region, Goharshad used her power and wealth to bring beauty to her kingdom. She built mosques, gardens, schools, and libraries, all with ornate painting and designs. Her reign was a time of peach, beauty, and tranquility, very far removed from what we think of when we think of Afghanistan today.

The author’s note explains that when she visited Afghanistan and saw the ruins of Goharshad’s college, she realized how different Afghanistan had once been and she wanted to share that with the world.

After reading this book about beautiful buildings, music, poetry, and paintings, my girls decided there was only one thing they could do, add to the beauty of the world by making some paintings of their own. You can scroll to see the beginning of their work.  I’m thrilled there are so many picture book biographies coming to market sharing the stories of powerful women from around the world that my girls can learn from, and aspire to be like.

I purchased this book for this project after I saw it and was intrigued by the story. None of the libraries near us had a copy.

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Books)

“Nasreen no longer feels alone. The knowledge she holds inside will always be with her, like a good friend.”

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan begins with an author’s note explaining why Nasreen was forced to go to school in secret. During the years of 1996 – 2001, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan girls weren’t allowed to attend school or university. Women weren’t allowed to work outside the home. Women weren’t allowed to leave home without a male relative chaperone. Women were forced to wear clothing (a burqa) that covered their entire bodies except for their eyes. Yet, education remained so important to families, that citizens opened secret schools.

Told from the perspective of Nasreen’s grandmother, Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, tells how Afghanistan was once a place where art, music, and learning flourished. Nasreen’s grandmother explains how during the Taliban rule her son was taken from her without explanation, and her daughter-in-law, who went in search of her husband, did not return. Nasreen became withdrawn waiting for her parents, until her grandmother heard of a secret school for girls, which she took Nasreen too daily. There Nasreen began to open her heart to the other girls while she opened her mind to learning. When you have knowledge of the world, you are never alone.

This book gently explains a very difficult and scary reality for some children. It ends with hope, not despair. It reinforces the lengths some families go to to provide their children with an education, something my own children would never think twice about. This book showed them how there are children in the world who would be very grateful to get the education they are getting. By hearing this beginning at very young ages, I hope they don’t ever take their education for granted.

Waiting for the Owl’s Call by Gloria Whelan & Pascal Milelli (Sleeping Bear Press)

“Tomorrow while my fingers tie knots, I will weave my own pattern. My hands belong to the loom but the pattern in my head is my own.”

Waiting for the Owl’s Call, published by Sleeping Bear Press as part of their “Tales of the World” series, is the story of Zulviya, a Turkoman girl who weaves rugs like the generations of women before her have. While she weaves the rug before her, she also weaves a rug in her mind using all the colors she sees around her – the thrush she saw, mulberries, the green hills, walnuts, the lake and other places and things she knows well. Through this lyrical tale we get a glimpse into the daily life of a Turkoman-Afghan girl and see the process of rug making from beginning to end. The word “school” is whispered among the children, but it is not a strong hope they have.

An author’s note at the back explains that child labor, like the story told in this book, is common around the world.  There is an organization, RugMark, which is working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry by making surprise visits to production sites, and providing education, rehabilitation, training, and job placement to children found working.

This book prompted our 4 year old to once again ask questions about children working, education, and the different ways people live around the world. She’s had a lot of questions this week, questions I’m glad to answer, and I hope will make her a more caring, empathetic human as she grows up.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams, Khadra Mohammed & Doug Chayka (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

“She picked her way to the stream, careful to keep her sandal out of the filth. Her old shoes had been ruined on the many miles of walking from Afghanistan to Peshawar, the refugee camp in Pakistan. She had carried her brother, Najiib, no bigger than a water jug then, but just as heavy.”

Four Feet, Two Sandals takes place in a refugee camp Khadra has worked in, in Peshawar, a city on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where millions of Afghani people have fled because of conflict in their country.

When aid workers deliver clothing to refugees at the refugee camp in Peshawar, Lina is thrilled when she is able to grab one yellow sandal with a blue flower in the middle. As she looks around to find the other sandal in the pair, Lina sees a girl who has seemingly just arrived at the camp with the other sandal on. As the girls go about their chores, Feroza gives her one sandal to Lina who then has two.  Lina decides the girls should take turns wearing each day the pair of sandals. The two become friends, leaning on each other to make it through the days at the camp. At the end, Lina is leaving to settle in America, and decides to leave the sandals behind with her friend Feroza, who says she must take one with her to remember.

This book beautifully shows what life is like in a refugee camp, and how friendship and courage can endure even under difficult circumstances. It again opened my daughters’ eyes to how people around the world live and the situations they must face. We’ve had a big week of learning this week.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby & Suana Verelst (Kids Can Press)

“‘Some of you are too young to remember, and some of you were not even born, but before the occupation of our country, before the civil wars and before the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were educated. They were doctors, government workers and journalists. ‘It is time to give our daughters and granddaughters in Deh’Subz the chance to read and write. Our family and our country will be stronger for it.”‘

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education is inspired by the lives of real girls living in the village of Deh’Subz in Afghanistan. When Razia finds out a school for girls will be built in her village, she enlists her grandfather who has told her stories of his own schooling, to help her convince her parents to let her attend school like two of her brothers. When he is taking too long, she asks her mother, but still does not get an answer. A meeting of the males in the family is called, which Razia overhears, only to be disappointed when her brother says she is not going to the new school. She later goes to the school and introduces herself to a woman there who offers to talk to Razia’s family for her. Eventually she is allowed to go to school where she tells everyone she one day hopes to become a teacher. 

Back matter includes information about education, the real Razia Jan, Dari words, and suggestions for classroom activities using the book. This book, like others we have read this week, shows the lengths girls will go to to get an education, something that improves the quality of life for everyone around them.

I borrowed this book from our local library.


This week we used a beautiful Afghanistan unit study from Thistles and Biscuits to go a little deeper with Afghanistan than picture books got us. One hundred percent of the profits from this study go to Hagar International, an organization which works with trafficked victims, as well as helps train Afghan people how to counsel their own people.

The study begins with directions on how to use the materials with your child. Flashcards of notable sites, cultural elements, and animals are included, with brief child-friendly descriptions. There are also recipes, including the one for Chai-E-Zanjafeel (tea) which we tried and loved this week. Copy work, information about the great mystic poet Rumi, ideas for art projects, geography work, coloring pages, a book list, and more are all included in the 28 pages. I benefitted from the page describing the conflicts that have been plaguing Afghanistan since 1978, which helped me prepare answers to some of my daughters’ questions this week. There is truly something for everyone, and you could easily spend 1-2 weeks doing all the activities.

Thank you Thistles and Biscuits for gifting us this unit study so we could dig a little deeper into Afghan culture this week. I am not affiliated with them in any way. They do have many other country unit studies as well that are worth looking at.

Adult Read

This week I listened to The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, published by Harper. I did not look into the history of the book much before reading it, and am now questioning the authenticity of the story. There are many parts that jump around, or details left out, that leave me wondering how much of the book is true and how much is fictional. I realized half way through listening that this is the first adult book I have read by an author from outside the country being written about. That may be part of the problem. It has been suggested she may be pushing an agenda for aid organizations.

I did enjoy listening to the book on Libro FM, and do feel I learned a lot about what life was like for women during the Taliban’s rule, and what their lives may be like again soon, unfortunately. I also liked how the story highlighted the lives of women, who are often left out of the war-torn country narrative.

If you are considering reading this book, make sure you know your purpose for reading, read some reviews, and do a little research prior. I’m considering reading or listening to another book set in Afghanistan by an author from Afghanistan to expand my understanding. This is a good time to point out, that a single book can never give us a good picture of the culture or people from any country. Everyone has a different story. The more stories we read and hear, the better we understand a place.


This week we chose to support our local Afghan restaurant (one of 2 in New Jersey) by ordering a delicious Afghan meal. We have been to this restaurant before and it did not disappoint!

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


Lori is a U.S. based mother of two girls (4 years old, and 2 years old), a wife, a special education teacher in a public school, and a picture book lover. While homebound because of Covid-19, she decided to give her girls a taste of all the things this big wide world has to offer, to broaden their hearts and minds using her favorite thing…picture books! Since March they have been on a world tour using picture books. This year her 4th grade students are also involved, and are loving listening to all the wonderful stories she has found. You can find her on Instagram at @kidsreadtheworld, at and on her blog at Kids Read the World.