The Magical Way About Books by Aisha Saeed
Growing up, school was a lonely place for me. I was the last one picked for the team. I ate lunch by myself. I remember my first-grade teacher telling my parents I didn’t have friends because I preferred to spend time by myself. While she was right that I was friendless, it wasn’t because I liked it that way. It was difficult for me to reach out to my peers and playground bullies made the task all the more complicated. Those were difficult years for me but the one thing that made the days more bearable were books. Reading books were my escape. A chance to leave my classroom and the teasing taunts of the playground behind me. Every weekend my parents piled me and my brothers into the family car and drove us to the local public library. I borrowed as many books as I could carry each Saturday afternoon and throughout the week those books were what carried me through. With a book in my lap I was no longer the child eating lunch alone in the cafeteria. I was a brown bear wandering a department store looking for his lost button. I was no longer sitting by myself on a bench at the playground, I was Julie figuring out a new life in a farmhouse with her Aunt Cordelia. Each book brought with it a new adventure. Every book I read gave me new perspective and insight into the world. And every book was a chance to sink into another universe completely and to feel however briefly, a sense of reprieve from a world that was not a gentle one for me.
But books were not just a source of solitary pleasure and comfort— they were ultimately my path out of loneliness as well. When another quiet girl saw me at recess one day reading a well-worn copy of The Babysitters Club she worked up the nerve to approach me. The Babysitters Club was her favorite series. She had to know which of the sitters was my favorite (Claudia). Together, over the course of the rest of the school year we made our way through the series. After that we skipped over to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and later, Fear Street. And somehow along the way she became more than just a reading buddy, she became my dearest childhood friend. And over time our reading circle grew to include more than just the two of us as we met other likeminded friends, all of us connecting through our love of reading. This revelation I had—the power of books to build community—has always stayed with me and as a teacher, I saw time and again not only the joy a child had in discovering a beloved character for the first time, but also the power of books to connect us whether it was two students chatting about a book during recess or in the afternoons when we read aloud as a class. The power of books to connect us surely comes as no surprise to readers of the Nerdy Book Club community who are a testament to the power of books to connect likeminded people together.
My experiences as a bookish child and later as a teacher helped inspire my main character, Amal, in Amal Unbound. Through books twelve-year-old Amal finds solace during incredibly difficult moments in her life and through books she also finds a way to connect with others. When I learned that Amal Unbound was selected as a 2018 Global Read Aloud, a program that connects classrooms from around the world, and that Penguin had created a collection of goodies exclusively for educators who pre-order Amal Unbound, it was particularly moving for me. I hope through reading Amal Unbound children can discover not only Pakistan, an often misunderstood country, but to also, hopefully, connect with Amal and with one another within their own classrooms as well as around the world through their shared love of read. I’m so excited for the Global Read Aloud and can’t wait for your students to meet Amal soon!
Aisha Saeed also wrote Written in the Stars, and is a Pakistani-American writer, teacher, and attorney. She has been featured on MTV, the Huffington Post, NBC and the BBC, and her writings have appeared in publications including the journal ALAN and the Orlando Sentinel. As one of the founding members of the much talked about We Need Diverse Books Campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons. You can follow her @aishacs on Twitter.