The Taliban thought bullets would silence Malala Yousafzai.
But instead they made her voice stronger, and today the teenager from Pakistan is known worldwide as a transformative advocate who embodies the power of education for girls.
Her book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, is the latest selection for Go Big Read, UW-Madison’s common-reading program.
Go Big Read organizers encouraged the campus community to suggest titles that fit into a theme of service. Chancellor Rebecca Blank chose “I Am Malala” from the short list that a selection committee culled from nearly 200 nominated titles.
“Malala’s story offers our students and campus community a firsthand account from a part of the world that is continuously in the news,” Blank says. “Readers will connect with these experiences through her convincing description of how she became a voice of protest against the social restrictions she faced. Her story will lead our students to reflect on the opportunities they have to use their own voice in the world.”
Yousafzai begins the book, co-written with British journalist Christina Lamb, by recounting the moment she was shot in the head in October 2012 on her way home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The rest of the book retraces the events that led up to that moment in a region that is one of the world’s hotspots.
“It is difficult to imagine a chronicle of a war more moving, apart from perhaps the diary of Anne Frank,” said a review in The Washington Post. Time Out New York said Yousafzai’s touching story, “will not only inform you of changing conditions in Pakistan, but inspire your rebellious spirit.”
Yousafzai was 11 when she began writing a blog anonymously for the BBC, describing life under Taliban rule from her hometown of Mingora, in the northwest region of Pakistan.
She was awarded the country’s National Peace Award in 2012, which has since been renamed the National Malala Peace Prize.She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 and was recently named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She and her family now live in England, where she continues to go to school.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” the now 16-year-old told young leaders from 100 countries at the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York last year. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”
Patrick McBride, associate dean for students at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and a member of the selection committee, said the story will remind readers why they can’t take their right to an education for granted.
“The rights of women, and the values of freedom, family, and education are championed by this remarkable family,” McBride says. “While the title sounds simple, when we read in the introduction of where those words are spoken, it will bring chills to the reader and become a cry for freedom around the world.”
Karen Crossley, associate director of operations for the Morgridge Center for Public Service, also served on the selection committee and says Yousafzai being close in age to most UW undergraduates will capture the attention of students.
“Malala’s commitment to composing a better world defines service in a highly personal way,” Crossley says.
Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events associated with “I Am Malala.”
Yousafzai will be in her senior year of high school and therefore unable to come to campus, but organizers are arranging for a speaker connected to the book who will give a public talk this fall.
Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students and to students using the book in their classes.