Nightsong: The Legend of Orpheus and Eurydice
This is an appealing treatment for young readers of the great Greek myth. If you read it, see if you don’t see some parallels with Street of Storytellers.
Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World
I wrote this biography of the great conqueror for Scholastic’s Wicked History series. It’s an incredible story, with all the drama, geographic sweep, battlefield heroics, and cruelty of a great fantasy. And it’s all true.
Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
This is also the first volume in a trilogy, this one set among tribal peoples in the Pakistani desert. Shabanu is 11 and caught between her own dreams and family pressures, which suddenly ask her to sacrice her future to preserve the family’s honor. The novel goes to places that may not be easy for all young readers, yet the characters are relatable and real.
Three Cups of Tea, Young Reader’s Edition
The story of mountaineer Greg Mortenson’s campaign to build schools in the mountain region of Pakistan is hopeful and illuminating about the region’s people and their customs — but Mortenson’s credibility has been strongly challenged.
This wonderful first novel in The Breadwinner trilogy follows Parvana, a girl of 11 in Kabul under Taliban rule who, after her father is arrested, must pose as a boy to earn money and keep her family from starving. The subject is serious but the story, at just 176 pages, is highly accessible. Next in the series are Parvana’s Journey and Mud City, later followed by My Name is Parvana. The Breadwinner is also available as an animated film.
The Kite Runner
One of the great story-telling achievements in modern fiction, The Kite Runner portrays Afghanistan’s descent into extremist rule through the lens of a single privileged boy in Kabul and his experiences becoming a man. Rarely does a novel for Western readers create such an easy entry into a very different culture. This is a novel that achieves universality while staying warmly true to its specifics.
Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil
It’s far from easy to open a window onto the inner lives of women in the Pashtun culture — but American Debbie Rodriguez found a way, with highly readable results. After Rodriguez went to Kabul with a humanitarian group shortly after the Taliban’s fall in 2001, she found her skills as a hairdresser in high demand, so she started a small school where young women could learn the trade and earn their own living. Rodriguez is a sympathetic observer and a good, warm writer; her subsequent first novel, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, is also well worth a read.
Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan
Stirring, inspiring, infuriating and tragic, this biography of Meena Keshwar Kumal is a true tale of heroism. It’s unforgettable.
When I’m asked in schools what is my all-time favorite book, I always say it’s Rudyard Kipling’s great 1898 story of a biracial street orphan in India. Kim is recruited by the British spy service and gets caught up in the fabled struggle between colonial Britain and Russia for power in Afghanistan and northwestern India, while at the same time he serves as the devoted attendant to a Tibetan lama in search of healing waters.
A coming-of-age novel, a pioneering spy story and a spiritual quest, Kim was the primary inspiration for Street of Storytellers. I found the novel in a used-book store in Peshawar, and I've enjoyed rereading it many times since. Kipling is often condemned as an apologist for imperialism, but this isn't fair. He was a realistic novelist who wrote about what he knew and saw — and it's been said many times that no Westerner ever wrote a better, more observant or loving novel about India than Kipling did with Kim.