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Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness? Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life -changing power of education and the healing power of love.

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To the courageous women and girls of Afghanistan

3w>d   P^c1M JltFleT 3TC <HU?cHI >H<hT3cI.

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Author’s Note

The Global Fund for Children, a nonprofit organization committed to helping children around the world, contacted me about basing a book on a true story from one of the camps they support.

I was immediately drawn to an organization in Afghanistan that founded and supported secret schools for girls during the 1996-2001 reign of the Taliban.

The founder of these schools, who requested anonymity, shared the story of Nasreen and her grandmother with me. Nasreen’s name has been changed.

Before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan,

  • 70% of the schoolchildren were women

  • 40% of the doctors were women

  • 50% of the students of 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 the home

  • Women weren’t allowed to leave home without a male relative as chaperon

  • Women were forced to wear a burqa that covered their entire head and body, with only a small opening for their eyes.

There was no singing or dancing or kiteflying. Art and culture, in the birthplace of the immortal poet Rumi was banished. The colossal Bamiyan Buddhas, carved intothe side of the mountain, was destroyed. Years of isolation and fear had begun.

But there was also bravery from citizens who defied the Taliban in many ways, including supporting the secret school forgirls.

Even now, after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, danger remains.

Still, schools are bombed, set on fire, and closed down. Still, there are death threats to teachers. Still, girls are attacked or threatened if theygo to school.

And STILL, the girls, their families, and their teachers defy the tyranny by keeping the schools open.

Their courage has never wavered.

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My granddaughter, Nasreen, lives with me in Herat, an ancient city of Afghanistan.

Art and music and leaning once flourished here.

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Then the soldiers came and changed everything.

The art and music and learning are gone.

Dark clouds hang over the city.

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Poor Nasreen sat at home all day, because girls are forbidden to attend school. The Taliban soldiers don’t want girls to learn about the world, the way Nasreen’s mama and I learned when we were girls.

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uidc^i ^fr. o^rr anf aiddidi f^T^rr dnwt

Jdc^lVTl sn^d” di^d ddii^^i41 ttrt Piczbciu’l £ difoHid ^Qchidi dc^r.


One night, soldiers came to our house

and took my son away, with no explanation.

3TrfuT cbl£l£l ^-q^ch<U ^ ^ 3=n^TT jhhihi


We waited many days and nights for his return.

3Tr3=^t fc^fT 3TTfST ^ft ^r^Tcfr ^TcT i: rT^cT ^TcTT.

Finally Nasreen’s frantic mama went searching for him, even though going out alone in the streets was forbidden for women and girls.

TZcZnZR cHWHI f^5RTT3HlTul -Hofi-HI tlldefl £)cfl d^’lsTld W§fld


3TT$ c^MI ^rmPToTTMT.

The hill moon passed our window many times as Nasreen and I waited.

3=fr 3Hlful dldl-HI


Nasreen never spoke a word. She never smiled. She just sat, waiting for her mama and papa to return. I knew I had to do something.

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^TeTTCr^Uill^ ^:<s U i Tjl. ^oTT<Hl^d ^ct^oTTchlfld^l <MI± <HI ^ ^ct.

I had heard whispers about a school, a secret school for girls, behind a green gate in a nearby lane. I wanted Nasreen to attend this secret school. I wanted her to learn about the world, as I had. I wanted her to speak again.

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So one day, Nasreen and I hurried down the lanes until we came to the green gate. Luckily, no soldier saw us

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dlc-^ch^ ifc fr. ^c   4 ch)u r i] ^l 3TT^MT ^TT^T.


I tapped lightly. The teacher opened the gate and we quickly slipped inside.

jfr r ciidci^. ear ausJo) anf^r an^t mc^-h an^w^



We crossed the courtyard to the school …. One room in a private house filled with girls.

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Nasreen took a place at the back of the room. Please Allah, open her eyes to the world. I pray as I left her there.

oH^H’TloH ^TT sHojhHI 3TT3^T ^RofT. ^ 3Tc^oTT, aRTTcflcT TTT^T

^c6^ui i^i < 5i f^r 3^. fcTcrr f<*$r chmihi ?fr

Nasreen didn’t speak to the other girls. She didn’t speak to the teacher. At home, she remained silent.

dd’Tld fcTT dofidWd sildo^l dT^T. slld^l dT^t.


dfRre^TT cfr k ,c bd*<H 3TTd df^T.

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I was fearful that the soldiers would discover the school. But the girls were clever. They slipped in and out of the school at different times so as not to arouse suspicion. And when the boys saw the soldiers near the green gate, they distracted them.

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to totoTT c^T fton *T> I d. <=H I oH c c6 sTOTto rlc^T to^T cTST ftofto ^Rlto.


I heard of a soldier who pounded on the gates demanding to enter.

tfr k Jc h I ^Plc^isj^oH ^Irl 1% oft M^ICchlcK £ld 3HHtd ^llabd aTsKc^cTl cHMIufl ^TcT ^TT.


But all he found was a room filled with girls reading the Koran, which was allowed. The girls had hidden their schoolwork, outwitting the soldier.

TOT r^TTcTT 3TO31lcia!>o) rR TORT TOTcT TOc^TI 3R%fT 3

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totortt^t TOrofr etefr. <h c^TiaTi sn^fr rtot Rtrfr, ar^^Tyrot ^rr^Qchidi tottot tottot.

One of the girls, Mina, sat next to Nasreen every day.

But they never spoke to each other. While the girls were learning Nasreen stayed inside herself.

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k’cb^cRisfr ^ctott ^nfr. ffrror 3 h>h<h i°h i


did I cl (41 3fHRT^T.


When school closed for the long winter recess, Nasreen and I sat by the fire. Relatives gave us what food and firewood they could spare. We missed her mama and my son more than ever. Would we ever know what had happened?

crTc^T fe^icozr^n %wo5\ ^ ^rrcfr, <h^h4?i<h anf^r

3tr ^chi(TicHcic6 ^ichcfin ^ ar^r anf^r aii^Hi

fei - . f^rw anf anfot 3 tt^wt 3trtT aii6ciui anofr. aii^ni

<HI l^d dc^ci ^tRT t S(H ^TcT?

The day Nasreen returned to school, Mina whispered in her ear.

o^rr f^refr <h^’Tio-i stt&h tot Mr ^tt f^fr Q^-ii toto ch£ih£i

ch^sl^eTl .

And Nasreen answered back.

arrfST h£i<h £ 3^ f^r.

With these words, her first since her mama went searching, Nasreen opened her heart to Mina.

fMT 3TTf dfecHMI ^iHTRTcRT jV±HMUj<H chlfld^l WtcHofT, ^ 3fRT

oicjoi 3H I H cH <Hoi 3Tfa>a!> <^kH.

And she smiled for the first time since her papa was taken away.

3TTf6t 9^-11 clf^diHI 9 ^Tofr.

At last, little by little, day by day, Nasreen learned to read, to write, to add and subtract.

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Each night she showed me what she had discovered that day.

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Windows opened for Nasreen in that little schoolroom.

rmaldill ^Ml^l 3^c^TT.

She learnt about the artists and writers and scholars and mystics who, long ago,

eft RH*K, 3TTf3t ^fi c   £ fS^Foft, o^liafl 3TT?fr

4 *

made Herat beautiful.

^TTcT TOT sJoHdcH .


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

dd’Tlddl 3TRTT 3 \ fa slid elid’d dlfl. $ tTW f^T oTRoT 3TT^ £ 3TdcT

didc-MI f^TRTR^ Q^ldlsld TT^IcT.

Now she can see blue sky beyond those dark clouds.

c^TT chlcoill d,d i^ 3TRT a^RteTT Q coil an^T^TTcTTan^TT tfT ^ ?T^.

As for me, my mind is at ease. I will wait for my son and his wife. But the soldier can never close the window that have opened for my granddaughter.

•HI $-±11 «HoH HI 3fFcTT3licfl ftc&lcfl 3TTt. JTIfTT 3WTT 3TTfoT ^n^it «ll± cbl ±rhfr 3ft cfR;



3I<+> U IK oTT^t.

Jeanette Winter lives in New York City, where she has written and illustrated many books for children based on true-life stories, including the highly acclaimed Mama, Wangari’s Trees of Peace and The Librarian of Basra, which was an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a winner of the Bank Street College of Education’s Elora Stieglitz Straus Award.

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( ) is a nonprofitorganization committed to advancing the dignity of children and youth around the world. The Global Fund for Children pursues its mission by making small grants to innovative community- based organizations working with some of the world’s most vulnerable children and youth.

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