Nasreen's Secret School

A True Story from Afghanistan

"Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan" written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter was published in 2009 by Beach Lane Books.

The read aloud is planned for fifth grade students. "Nasreen's Secret School" is a picture book about a girl in Afghanistan who is not allowed to go to school because of the Taliban, who's grandmother helps her to get an education. It gives a brief insight into the struggle for women's rights and education in the Middle East, and also the transformational power education has on a life. Although this book does not have any literary awards, it is a powerful story and one that speaks truth about Nasreen.

Background Knowledge

The author, Jeanette Winter, has written many children's books based on true-life stories. She grew up loving to draw and tell stories with her pictures. Becoming an illustrator took many hours of self instructing but very rewarding for Jeanette. She writes her books in long hand on a pad of paper, because "the computer is not her friend." All of her illustration paintings are made in matte acrylic paint, and her writing comes from stories of real people and events in her life.

In the opening pages of the book, Jeanette talks about a nonprofit organization called The Global Fund for Children. This organization, who is committed to helping children around the world, contacted Jeanette about basing one of her books on a true story from one of the groups they support.

Here are some interesting and useful facts that help us to better understand Nasreen's story.

Before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan:

  • 70% of schoolteachers were women
  • 40% of doctors were women
  • 50% of students at Kabul University were women
After the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan:
  • girls weren't allowed to attend school or university
  • women weren't allowed to work outside of the home
  • women weren't allowed to leave home without a male relative as chaperone
  • women were forced to wear a burqa that covered their entire head and body, with only a small opening for their eyes
Jeanette Winter, Author-Illustrator of "Nasreen's Secret School" Wins 2010 Jane Addams Book Award

Multicultural Literary Criteria

Honor and celebrate diversity: This book tells a beautiful story about a Muslim girl living in Afghanistan when the Taliban reigned. It uses her story of hope and breaking the cycle and celebrates education, diversity, and the challenges women in the Middle East go through to get educations.

Provide in-depth treatment of cultural issues: The opening pages of the story are in depth details and facts about what Afghanistan was like during the time this story takes place. It is based off of a true story, which helps bring to light the real events that took place in Afghanistan. The story is easy to read, but the illustrations show a very beautiful and accurate portrayal of the culture of the women.

Include members of a minority group for a purpose other than filling a quota: Most students don't usually read a story about Muslim women who hide and sneak around just to learn reading and writing. This story is solely about a minority group who is oppressed, but gives hope and inspiration to the movement happening over seas.


courageous: not deterred by danger or pain; brave

Taliban: an Islamic fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan. It spread throughout Afghanistan and formed a government, ruling as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from September 1996 until December 2001, with Kandahar as the capital.

1. Today we are going to learn about two words used in the story. First, we will talk about what the Taliban is. Does anyone have an idea of what the Taliban is? (Call on students; encourage correct or close answers).

2. The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist group, or a group of religious ideologies seen as advocating a return to the fundamentals of Islam. They take their convictions to the extreme and use violence. They want life to be religion focused, and think that using violence and oppression will enable them to get a life back that mimics ancient times. Think for a moment, and see if you can relate what the Taliban is like to another group of extremists in the world or our nation. (wait 10 seconds). Who can make a connection to another group that uses violence and oppression to push their ideas onto others? (Call on 4 students).

3. The second word we are going to learn about is courage.

4. The second word we will learn about is courageous. To be courageous means you are not deterred by danger or pain; you are brave. Class, talk with your shoulder partner about what being courageous looks like.

5. After students discuss, call each group to say what they talked about.

6. I am going to number order you off by 4s. (number students). Ones meet at the front of the class, 2s meet at the back. 3s and 4s, you will be the audience who guesses.

7. Once students are in place, give each of the two groups standing one of the vocabulary words. "You have to come up with a dance/movement/or actions to represent your word. You cannot talk. The audience will watch both groups and have to guess which word goes with each group.

8. Allow work time. The audience members will work with the teacher to go over the definitions of the two words again.

9. After 3 minutes, gather students and have group one present.

10. Group two will then present.

11. The audience will then point to the group they think represents courageous.

12. Once the actions are over, review vocabulary words once more by having students repeat saying "courageous: not deterred by danger or pain; brave" and "Taliban: an Islamic fundamentalist group, or a group of religious ideologies seen as advocating a return to the fundamentals of Islam. "


1. What would life be like if education wasn't a right?

2. Compare our education freedom to that of Nasreen. What is different between the two countries?

3. Why is your education important to your future?

4. Can you relate this story to something you've seen or read about? Share with your table partner.

5. What are you going to do now after reading Nasreen's story and seeing a different perspective about education?

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