Journalist and two-time National Book Award finalist Patricia McCormick has met presidents and even a Beatle during her distinguished career — but it may have been a 15-year-old girl from Pakistan who most took her breath away.
Malala Yousafzai risked her life for the right to go to school, and McCormick admits to finding herself a little daunted on first meeting the teen.
“I was intimidated, because she’s so extraordinarily brave,” McCormick told a group of Brunswick Middle Schoolers, suggesting to another class: “If Malala can risk her life for the right to go to school, I can speak up about racial injustice, homophobia, misogyny. I’m 63, and I’m learning something so fundamental from a 15-year-old girl.”
McCormick is co-author of I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, the young readers’ version of the celebrated, best-selling book about the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban.
McCormick visited with Brunswick seventh-graders in a series of three, 35-minute Zoom meetings on April 21.
“I’m super impressed that an all-boys school chose I Am Malala as a read,” McCormick said, adding: “It’s always really wonderful to be with a roomful of readers.”
Boys read I Am Malala earlier this year as a supplement to their unit on Islam, and were able to meet McCormick thanks to classmate Jack Sieg, who is a family friend, and Middle School History teacher Michael Krasnow.
“We scheduled our time with Mrs. McCormack quite a while ago, so we are incredibly thrilled to still be able to offer the boys this opportunity. ‘Thank you!’ to the Sieg family for helping to set this up,” said Jay Crosby, seventh-grade dean.
McCormick told students she first met Malala after she was asked to co-author the memoir, spending about a month with the Nobel laureate to gather information.
Brunswick students took turns peppering her with questions and observations about her book, asking especially about her time with someone who is “as famous as Cher.”
McCormick emphasized the incredible bravery Malala has shown, and the way the youngster accepted the simple fact that people have hated her and wanted her dead because she sought an education.
“Malala is an incredible human being,” McCormick said. “Fearless. Really, really bright. Loves school. And completely normal. She’s an incredible combination of extraordinary and ordinary.”
McCormick said her first few days interviewing Malala were “terrible,” with canned answers and no new insight.
A game of Hopscotch revealed the “goofy” regular teenager inside, and opened the door to days of honest conversation.
“She wants people to know she has flaws,” McCormick told students. “She wants people to know inside each of us is a brave person who can speak up and fight for what’s fair and what’s right.”
“What I respect is her fearlessness,” McCormick said. “What I like most is she’s a laugher. She giggles.”