the breadwinner a book your kids should read

A good novel is like a new window on the world. And a fresh perspective is exactly what you need every once in awhile.

A good novel is like a new window on the world.

And a fresh perspective is exactly what you need every once in awhile. Especially if you’re growing up in a relatively isolated community like the Yukon, with your head down as you rush madly from home to school to soccer practice and piano.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is eye-opening in exactly this way. It follows the story of a young Kabul girl named Parvana. A Whitehorse girl can easily identify with Parvana as she copes with her bossy older sister and her parents’ endless nagging.

But any semblance to what we consider a “normal” life quickly disappears as the Taliban intrude on Parvana’s life. Her school is closed. Her mother and sister cannot go outside without a male relative as an escort. The kitchen windows are painted over to prevent women being visible from outside the home. Then the Taliban arrest her father for the crime of having attended a foreign university.

Unable to work, and with no men to support them, Parvana’s family is doomed to starvation. Their only hope is for Parvana to crop her hair, dress in her dead brother’s clothes and pretend to be a boy so she can work in the market.

As literature, The Breadwinner is an engaging read. Parvana’s energetic and feisty character appeals to the reader and her adventures are gripping, sometimes uncomfortably so.

We also see Parvana develop as her troubles force her to think about her mother and father, and their choices, in new ways. And Ellis manages to teach us quite a bit about Afghanistan without turning her novel into a lecture.

Even more importantly, The Breadwinner provokes conversation. Three of us have read it in our house, and we’ve discussed it with a few Grade 7 friends studying the book at school.

The Breadwinner doesn’t force its point of view on the reader. Ellis describes Parvana’s life in Kabul and lets us make up our own minds.

But she does lead us to some important concepts.

The first is how fortunate we are to live in Canada rather than Afghanistan.

“It reminds me how lucky we are,” said one Whitehorse girl. This isn’t a new idea, but it is probably one that young Canadians (indeed all Canadians) should remember more often.

Another theme is “why?” Why have the Taliban taken over Afghanistan? Why do they disagree so violently with our view on human rights, especially women’s rights?

In one memorable scene, Parvana reads a letter to an illiterate young Taliban fighter. Seeing him cry over his dead wife doesn’t help us understand the men who dragged her father to prison, but it does make us ask ourselves about what motivates people to do things that seem so obviously wrong to an outsider.

The book also makes us ask questions about the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

American-backed fighters ejected the Taliban from Kabul in 2001, but the fighting goes on. Canadian aid workers have now been in Afghanistan for seven years and our army—including some Yukoners—is battling the Taliban insurgency in the hills of Kandahar province. Parvana’s story puts a human face behind the news stories we see as our army prepares to withdraw from Kandahar in 2011.

Finally, the book prompts young people to think about what they can do in the real world for people like Parvana, to tackle poverty, homelessness and violence either here at home or in places like Afghanistan.

The Breadwinner’s author is closely linked with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a Calgary-based group that has done dozens of projects in Afghanistan in the last decade. One of this columnist’s friends in Kabul reports that the group has a strong reputation for its projects rebuilding girls’ schools and supporting literacy.

Surprisingly small amounts of money can make a big difference.

For the price of a new iPod, you can buy the school supplies for an entire class of Kabul girls. And your teenager’s cellphone bill will pay the monthly salary of the teacher.

None of these questions are easy to answer. But discussing them around the dinner table enriches children and parents alike.

So pick up a copy of The Breadwinner for your teenager, and then steal it back to read yourself.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. His next book Game On Yukon! appears in May.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read