"This first novel is, on several counts, one of the most exciting YA books to appear recently. Staples is so steeped in her story and its Pakistani setting that the use of a first-person voice for a desert child rings authentic--the voice is clear, consistent, and convincing. Shabanu and her sister are to marry brothers as soon as they all come of age. But she will eventually lose her betrothed and be promised to a wealthy landowner to settle a feud. The richness and tragedy of a whole culture are reflected in the fate of this girl's family. Through an involving plot Staples has given readers insight into lives totally different from their own, but into emotions resoundingly familiar."--(starred) Bulletin, Center for Children's Books.
Life is both sweet and cruel to strong-willed young Shabanu, whose home is the windswept Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. The second daughter in a family with no sons, shes been allowed freedoms forbidden to most Muslim girls. But when a tragic encounter with a wealthy and powerful landowner ruins the marriage plans of her older sister, Shabanu is called upon to sacrifice everything shes dreamed of. Should she do what is necessary to uphold her familys honoror listen to the stirrings of her own heart?
Set against the backdrop of desert life in present-day Pakistan, this book offers a passionate and deeply personal portrait of a young girl's struggle for identity in a culture that forbids even token expressions of independence by women. 1990 Newbery Honor Book; ALA Notable Book; ALA Best Book for Young Adults; A Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies; "Horn Book" Fanfare Honor Book; IRA Teachers' Choice.
Suzanne Fisher Staples is the award-winning author whose novels for young adults include Haveli, the sequel to Shabanu; Dangerous Skies; and Shivas Fire. Before writing books, she worked for many years as a UPI correspondent in Asia, with stints in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
1. How is the life of Shabanus family affected because the family has no male children? How is their financial well-being affected? Explain how having no brothers has shaped Shabanu. Do you believe that having a son is a high priority for a family in your culture?
2. Many people love animals, but Shabanus affinity with the camels, especially with Guluband and Mithoo, is extreme. What freedoms does Shabanu obtain from her job of caring for the camels? List things she learns from the camels that help her to understand human beings.
3. When Shabanu begins to realize that Guluband might be sold, Dadi says, “What Allah wills cannot be changed” (p. 49). How does Shabanu feel when it really happens? Why does she reject her impulse to take the animal and run away (p. 56)? Later (p. 63), Shabanu has intellectually accepted her fathers decision, but emotionally it is a different story. Explain why she feels she has lost her joy, her freedom, and her identity. How do you interpret her statement (p. 85) that the experience has taught her “both the strength of my will and its limits”? How does this foreshadow later events?
4. One of the novels minor themes is the relationship between father and daughter, a tricky one in any culture. What makes it even more complicated in Pakistan? Note the times when Dadi acts from his feelings about Shabanu and those when he follows tradition. For example, examine the scene when the camels fight (pp. 23–26). When Dadi does things “for her own good,” is he being a responsible father, or is he trying to break her spirit? How do you think American culture affects father-daughter relationships?
5. Shabanu is the name of a princess. Considering our Shabanus character and station in life, what is appropriate and inappropriate about her name? At the bazaar in Rahimyar Khan (pp. 70–74), do you think it is her name or her nature that causes the shopkeeper to give Shabanu the valuable gifts? Defend your answer with examples from the story. The shopkeepers kindness touches Shabanus heart. Explain how her gratitude may be more important than the items themselves.
6. In the United States, how long are the young considered children? How long does childhood last for Muslims? At thirteen, Phulan is supposed to be a woman. Point to her conflicting feelings about her role and her forthcoming marriage to Hamir. Why does she wear a black chadr?
7. A dilemma is any situation requiring a choice between equaloften equally unpleasantalternatives. Explain Shabanus dilemma when she and Phulan meet Nazir Mohammad and his hunters. Shabanus choosing to save her sister from rape leads to the storys climax. On p. 154, why is Shabanu angry at her sister? “She was asking for it” is still used as a defense by rapists. Does Shabanus anger show an antifeminist response or is she, too, a victim, but a victim of her culture?
8. Irony is the use of words to express something other thanoften the opposite oftheir literal meaning. The chapter explaining that Phulan will marry Murad and that Shabanu is promised to Rahim is titled “Justice.” First discuss the irony of the title, then look at the decisions made in this chapter in terms of the customs of Shabanus society.
9. Shabanu has always displayed her independence, and her mother has been understanding. Why do you think her mother slaps her when she says she will go to live with Sharma? Sharma accuses the family of having bought Phulans happiness and their security by selling Shabanu. Do you agree or disagree? How is this arrangement different from their having arranged Shabanus marriage to Murad? Defend or attack Dadis argument.
10. Sharma tells Shabanu she has two choices: Keep Rahims interest by learning the tricks of women or come to live with her. Considering the culture and Shabanus character, predict what she will do. What would you have done?
11. What is Sharma meant to represent in the story? Is she wise or simply a rebel? Shabanu faces her future armed only with Sharmas advice: Keep your innermost beauty locked in your heart. What does this mean? Do you think it will protect Shabanu?
NOTE TO TEACHERS
Reading Suzanne Fisher Staples’s books is like taking a journey to a faraway place. Shabanu and Haveli, suspenseful novels about a girl growing up in Pakistan, can be read and enjoyed on their own by students, but the books also lend themselves to cross-cultural studies and provide many opportunities for activities across the disciplines. In addition, “wannabe” writers will not only by enchanted by Staples’s sumptuous, exotic language but also can learn techniques to use in their own work. Each novel stands on its own, but after reading Shabanu, few students will be able to resist Haveli, its sequel. Even if your students are reading just one of the books, we recommend that you read through this entire guide because you will find that there are questions and activities under each title that may be used with both books.
Before Reading the Novel
●Pretend it is your wedding day. Now imagine that your family has arranged the marriage and that you do not love your intended partner. In addition, if you are a girl, your husband might already have other wives. How do you feel?
●Predict. Staples calls Shabanu “daughter of the wind.” Think of the qualities of the wind and describe a person who could have those attributes. Choose an aspect of nature that defines you. “I am the son or daughter of _______ because…”
●Pack a bag. We’re going on a trip to a country where families do decide whom their children will marry. Travel light, because we’ll be riding a camel. Shabanu, a Pakistani tomboy, will be our guide. Look at the map in the front of your book. Now locate Shabanu’s homeland on a world map. To visit her, how many countries will we have to cross? How many continents? What countries border her homeland?
Language could be a problem unless you check the glossary in the back of the book. How many could you make your camel hurry along if you didn’t know hunteray was the way to say “giddyap”?
To create the romantic atmosphere and convey the setting, Staples uses exotic and sensuous language. Notice how she paints the images, invents the smells and the sounds. She uses strong verbs - Mama “slaps” the bread into shape; Dadi “scoops” Shabanu into his arms; blowing sand “skins” people alive. Borrow some of her powerful words to recycle in your writing. Staples won’t mind.
We’ll be on the move. Shabanu is a nomad. Finding our roots, determining who we are, is hard enough when our environment stays the same. What do you think would be the disadvantages if your home kept shifting, like Shabanu’s? What are the advantages?
●Keep a journal. To experience Pakistan’s culture, what should we look for on our journey? In addition to our food, clothing, homes, manners, beliefs, customs, language, music, art, and literature, what reveals American culture to visitors? Take notes comparing Shabanu’s world to yours.
After Reading the Novel
Questions for Discussion
1. How is the life of Shabanu’s family affected because they have no male children? How is their financial well-being affected? Explain how having no brothers has shaped Shabanu. Do you feel that having a son is a high priority for a family in your culture?
2. Many people love animals, but Shabanu’s affinity with the camels, especially with Guluband and Mithoo, is extreme. What freedoms does Shabanu obtain from her job of caring for the camels? List things she learns from the camels that help her to understand human life.
3. When Shabanu begins to realize that Guluband might be sold, Dadi says, “What Allah wills cannot be changed” (p.49). How does she feel when it really happens? Why does she reject her impulse to take the animal and run away (p.56)? Later (p.63), Shabanu has intellectually accepted her father’s decision, but emotionally it is a different story. Explain why she feels she has lost her joy, her freedom, and her identity. How do you interpret her statement, on p. 85, that the experience has taught her “the strength of my will and its limits.” How does this foreshadow later events?
4. In this story, Shabanu experiences two great losses — Guluband Murad. Stables uses language of the heart to describe the girl’s feelings about the camel, but not the boy. Explain why you think she got it right or wrong.
5. One of the minor themes in the novel is the relationship between father and daughter, a tricky relationship in Pakistan? Trace the times Dadi acts from his heart toward Shabanu and those when he follows tradition and custom. For example, examine the scene when the camels fight on pp.23-26. When he does things “for her own good,” is he being a responsible father, or is he trying to break her spirit? How do you think American culture affects father-daughter relationships?
6. “Shabanu” is the name of a princess. Considering our Shabanu’s character and station in life, what is appropriate and inappropriate about the name?
At the bazaar in Rahimyar Khan (pp. 70-74), do you think it is her name or her nature that causes the shopkeeper to give Shabanu the expensive and valuable gifts? Defend your answer with examples from the story. His kindness touches her heart. Explain how this gift of feeling grateful might have been more important than the items themselves, even though she is poor and has few clothes.
7. In the United States, how long are the young considered children? How long does childhood last for Muslims? At thirteen, Phulan is supposed to be a woman and act mature. Point to her conflicting feelings about her role and her forthcoming marriage to Hamir. Why does she wear a black chadr?
8. A dilemma is any situation requiring a choice between equally unpleasant alternatives. Explain Shabanu’s dilemma when she and Phulan meet Nazir Mohammad and his hunters. Her choosing to save her sister from rape leads to the story’s climax (see Thinking Like a Writer on p. 5 of this guide). On p. 154, why is Shabanu angry at her sister? “She was asking for it” is still used as a defense by rapists. Does Shabanu’s anger show an anti-feminist response or is she, too, a victim, but a victim of her culture?
9. Irony is an event or an expression in which the intended meaning of the words is the opposite of what is expected. The chapter explaining that Phulan will marry Murad and that Shabanu is promised to Rahim is entitled “Justice.” First discuss the irony of the title as you see the situation, then look at the decisions made in this chapter in terms of the customs of Shabanu’s society.
10. Shabanu has always displayed her independence, and her mother has been understanding. Why do you think her mother slaps her when she says she will go to live with Sharma? Sharma accuses the family of having bought Phulan’s happiness and their security by selling Shabanu. Do you agree or disagree? How is this arrangement different from their having arranged her marriage to Murad? Defend or attack Dadi’s argument.
11. Sharma tells Shabanu she has two choices; Keep Rahim’s interest by learning the tricks of women or come to live with her. Considering the culture and Shabanu’s character. Predict what you think she will do. What would you have done?
12. What is Sharma meant to represent in the story? Is she wise or simply a rebel? Shabanu faces her future armed only with Sharma’s advice: keep your innermost locked in you heart. What does this mean? Do you think it will protect her?
Activities Across the Curriculum
1. Write from another point of view:
●Murad has always expected to marry feisty Shabanu, but when his older brother Hamir dies, the families arrange for him to marry the beautiful sister, Phulan. Staples doesn’t tell us how he feels. Create a scene from Murad’s point of view, showing his sadness, happiness, resentment, anger, or indifference.
●Describe Shabanu, her family, or an incident from their lives from the perspective of one of her aunts. Auntie is bitter and envious. Sharma is strong and independent. Be sure to create a voice that reveals character.
●Rewrite the conclusion from Dadi’s viewpoint.
2. Write a personal essay:
●Pretend it’s the custom in your culture for parents to pick mates for their children. Write an account of whom or at least the type of person, your parents would choose for you. It’s okay to make it funny.
●Shabanu says men and camels aren’t so different. Men, too, practice shutr keena (camel vengeance). Write about when you might have seen shutr keena in action.
3. Visit a museum: If a museum in your community has a collection of Islamic art, jewelry, or clothing, plan a class trip. Notice the importance of gold in most of the works. Islamic calligraphers and painters, noted for creating beautiful books, even put gold on paper. Fabrics are decorated with gold thread and jewels, like the wedding clothes Shabanu describes in the story.
4. If a trip isn’t possible, ask a librarian and/or an art teacher to help you find photographs and drawings in books. Try to find someone in your community who has a Chadr, shatoosh, sari, or turban and who could demonstrate to the class how the fabrics are wrapped to cover the head and body.
5. Pretend you are a sociologist investigating the use and history of dowries. In the library, look for the origin of and the reason for the custom, cultures that have practiced it, and those that still do. Ask the librarian for titles of plays, poems, and novels that deal with the subject. Interview people from other countries and older people for anecdotes about the practice. Ask members of your family if dowries were ever paid in your family. After you have written your reports, hold a panel discussion on the topic of dowries.
6. Pakistan’s boundaries and rulers have changed many times. To put together a picture of the country’s past and present, divide research on the topics on what you have found.
●Early history (Indus Valley cicilization).
●Independence (1947 and after).
●Leaders such as Ali Bhutto and his daughter, Benazir.
●Compare and contrast the Hindu and Muslim religions.
●Explain the terrain. How much of the country is desert, mountains, fertile land? What are the major rivers, cities, the capital? Give the population, the major industries and products.
●Report on the relations Pakistan has with India, Afghanistan, and the U.S.
7. The sitar, a lute-like instrument, is popular in Pakistan. Play records like those of Ravi Shanker.
8. At the bank, find out how many rupees equal a dollar. How many rupees would you need to buy a soda, a loaf of bread, jeans? Approximately how many dollars was Dadi paid for Guluband? What was the dollar cost of the shawls Shabanu bought for her sister’s dowry?
Questions for Discussion if You Have Read Both SHABANU and HAVELI
1. Mumtaz’s Choti and Shabanu’s Mithoo died unpleasant deaths before their time. Explain how the customs of the country contribute to or cause the death of both pets.
2. In the last line of Shabanu, Shabanu says, “Rahim-sahib will reach out to me for the rest of his life and never unlock the secrets of my heart.” Considering what happens in Haveli, do you think her prediction comes true?
3. Shabanu’s last thought in Haveli is “Omar is my heart; and Mumtaz, Mumtaz is my freedom.’’ How do you interpret what she means? Does this conclusion leave you with hope or despair?
4. Recalling the life Shabanu had as a child and what Mumtaz experiences in her first five years, so you feel Mumtaz lost or gained by being sent back to live in the desert with the nomads? Which life would you prefer?
5. Omar was educated in America, where he began to think differently about women. We see him express his love for Shabanu at Zabo’s grave, but we also watch him being trained by Rahim, and we remember Dadi’s role in his daughters’ lives. Try to imagine what will happen to Omar after this story ends. Describe the man you think he will be, the kind of life he will have ten years later.
6. Although Sharma is not actually present in the majority of the scenes, she plays an important role in both stories, representing a new type of woman in the Islamic culture — she gives Shabanu a means of birth control, and she offers Zabo and Shabanu an escape from tradition. How do these things benefit or hurt these young women? Do you feel the author means for you to think of her as a sympathetic character? If so, do you think she represents the future of women in Pakistan?
7. In Shabanu (p. 219), just before Phulan’s wedding to Shabanu’s intended, her mother tells Shabanu “…you have much to learn before your strength works for you instead of against you.” If you think her prophecy comes true, trace the times when Shabanu’s strength was her weakness, what she learned, and how, in the tragic ending, her strength finally worked for her. If you disagree, disprove the foreshadowing statement.
DISCUSSION AND WRITING
Thinking Like a Writer
1. Does your name affect the way you behave or think about yourself? Were you named for someone, or does you name have another meaning? How do names of characters in books affect the way you perceive them? Think of different names for Billy Budd, Huckleberry Finn, and Winnie-the-Pooh. As a writer, you have the fun and the power of naming your characters. Reserve a page in your notebook for interesting names to use in your stories. Staples often chooses names for her characters that mean something else: Phulan — “flower”; Mithoo — “Sweet”; Kalu — “black”; Sher Dil — “lion heart”; Xhush Dil — “happy heart.” Discuss the effectiveness of her choices.
2. A symbol is a writer’s tool that can increase the implication or beauty of the work. It is applied to a word or phrase that has significance but that also has a range of meaning beyond itself. On a literal level the chapter “Birth” (pp. 13-19) describes a dying camel giving birth. Can you see additional relevance and meaning in the scene in terms of the natural order, the ties between man and nature, and Shabanu’s culture? Explain the symbolic significance of the vulture and the snake, birth and death, and the other mothers’ rejection of Mithoo. How does Staples also use the scene to reveal and contrast Shabanu’s and Phulan’s characters?
Characters as symbols: Shabanu, Phulan, their mother, Auntie, and Sharma are all significant characters. But try to determine how their different natures also have a symbolic component, just as Grandfather represents history and Dadi represents social tradition.
Gender symbols: In the Muslim culture, male and female roles are rigidly defined. Explain how objects like the hookah and the chadr symbolize the gender roles. Describe the symbolic significance of the men’s and the women’s acitivities at Channan Pir. Point to the other examples in the story.
3. To create an interesting story, a writer has to create suspense by concocting conflicts and make the reader curious to know how they will turn out. Explain how the author uses the death of Mithoo’s mother as another problem that helps to move the plot along. What other incidents add to the suspense of how the family will raise Phulan’s dowry?
4. A story within a story: When a novelist has picked a cast of characters and developed a plot and a theme, he or she must write within that framework. Everything must reinforce the original plan. Even though Staples is telling Shabanu’s story, she included two other stories. In one, a girl has eloped with a Marri tribesman. Her kinsmen are looking for her and will kill her (p. 44). At Channan Pir, Sharma tells another story about a Rajput prince who tries to kill his child who is destined to be a saint (p. 105). If you had been Staples’s editor, would you have suggested she eliminate these stories because they do not pertain to Shabanu’s story, or can you see how they reinforce or relate to the main plot line?
5. A novel is structured so that all action builds toward a climax — the high point and the turning point in a story. Which event in the novel is the climax of the story? Explain how the climax affects the major characters.
Newbery Honor Book
American Library Association (ALA)
Notable Children’s Books
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
International Reading Association (IRA) Teacher’s Choice
IRA Young Adults’ Choice
National Council for Social Studies
Notable Children’s Trade Book
Prepared by Lou Willett Stanek, Ph.D.