4th Grade and Up
(First Published 2009)
It isn’t that Abby Carson can’t do her schoolwork, it’s just that she doesn’t like doing it. And that means she’s pretty much failing sixth grade. When a warning letter is sent home, Abby realizes that all her slacking off could cause her to be held back… for real! Unless she wants to repeat the sixth grade, she’ll have to meet some specific conditions, including taking on an extra-credit project: find a pen pal in a foreign country. Simple enough (even for a girl who hates homework).
Abby’s first letter arrives at a small school in Afghanistan, and Sadeed Bayat is chosen to be her pen pal… Well, kind of. He is the best writer, but he is also a boy, and in his village, it is not appropriate for a boy to correspond with a girl. So, his younger sister dictates and signs the letter. Until Sadeed decides what his sister is telling Abby isn’t what he’d like Abby to know.
As letters flow back and forth between Illinois and Afghanistan, Abby and Sadeed discover that their letters are crossing more than an ocean. They are crossing a huge cultural divide and a minefield of different lifestyles and traditions. Their growing friendship is also becoming a growing problem for both communities, and some people are not happy. Suddenly things are not so simple.
Like Abby, during my many years of schooling, I could do the schoolwork, I just didn’t want to. Unlike Abby, I still did the schoolwork because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. Fear is a great motivator. And the fear of having to repeat a grade is an even better motivator.
In the beginning of the story, Sadeed believes that helping his sister communicate with a girl from America was beneath him. In Afghanistan and even in the U.S. today, there are still many people who believe that boys are superior to girls. Bit of a spoiler, Sadeed’s view on girls does change when he realizes that Abby and his sister are smarter than he originally thought.
People were unhappy about the communication between an American girl and an Afghanistan girl. On the American side, someone got “uncomfortable” about the Afghan Flag being on display because the words on it promote one particular religion. I was “uncomfortable” during my elementary school’s D.A.R.E presentations and nothing was done about that. On the Afghanistan side it’s a lot more serious. In a nutshell, some people in Afghanistan want nothing to do with America and think girls shouldn’t have an education. Pretty much both countries don’t want the other country telling them what to do.
I like how both Abby and Sadeed learn about each other’s view of the world and to appreciate their own day-to-day life. I didn’t like how it was implied that Abby and Sadeed were starting to have ‘feelings’ for each other. Not every interaction between a boy and a girl has to be romanticized.
This weeks’ Weird but True Fact about Afghanistan
*Some kids in Afghanistan participate in kite fighting. Players try to cut each other’s strings by gluing glass to their strings.
*My dad used to do this when he was growing up in the Philippines.