Zahra's Paradise

Zahra'sZahra's Paradise
By Amir & Khalil
Publisher: First Second
ISBN: 978-1-59643-642-8

"It is certain that words and images have the power to expose truths that can break through some very thick walls."

- Amir and Khalil -

I don't want to write a review about Zahra's Paradise. I fear that if I do I will take something very important away from the readers who may find it.

I found this graphic novel challenging. Not because I didn't understand it. Not because it was poorly told. It is clearly told. It is brilliantly illustrated. I found it challenging because it made me uncomfortable. In a good way. In the midst of the holiday season and all its accompanying merriment, Zahra's Paradise asked me to think about what my mom always says are the two guarantees we all have in common, life and death. And that's where my fear sets in. For some reason, I don't want you to know that.

I want this graphic novel to be something you find and explore on your own. Ok, spoiler alert noted. If you want some more specifics read the next paragraph. If not, hurry up and go get this graphic novel.

Set during the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian elections, Zahra's Paradise focuses on a fictional family living through a very real, historical reality. All is not right following the 2009 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Ahmadinejad is currently still the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran). Worldwide, many people suspect high levels of election fraud, and, as a result, protests against Ahmadinejad's election erupt in Tehran, Iran. Not all of the protestors return home. Zahra's Paradise follows the fictionalized family of one missing protestor, Mehdi. Armed only with his name, Mehdi's mother and brother set out to find him. But how can they find someone who exists to them in name-face-and-life and only as a number to Iranian officials?

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plot: Following the Iranian protests of the 2009 election of President Ahmadinejad, many young protesters are missing. One of them is Mehdi. Unable to find Mehdi and fearing the worst, his mother and brother devote themselves to figuring out how someone can seemingly just vanish without a trace.

Setting: Tehran, Iran 2009

Major Characters: Mehdi, his mother, and his brother, Life and Death

Themes: Leadership, Democracy, Fact and Fiction, Social Media, Young and Old

Traditional and Contemporary Literary Pairing Suggestions: Frederick Douglass' The Life of Frederick Douglass, Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindications of the Rights of Women, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Art Spiegelman's Maus

Some Teaching Recommendations For High School Readers

Suggested Alignment to the IRA /NCTE Standard(s):*

- standard #s correspond to the numbers used by IRA/NCTE

1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries,databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Lesson Idea for High School Readers:

Ashamed as I am, I must admit that it has been awhile since I have read a literary work that motivated me to conduct research on a topic unrelated to my career or my personal life. Zahra's Paradise not only motivated me to conduct research, but also motivated me to care for and find ways to reach out to a people and a nation I have neither visited nor a familial connection to.

Zahra's Paradise is so engaging, so insightful, and so frightening in its literal historical accuracy that I believe teachers and librarians should offer their students a chance to explore, reflect upon and research the very topic — the heart — of this graphic novel: the 2009 Iranian Presidential elections. What happened? Why? Who was involved? And how can American teachers, librarians and students learn from and generate support for the people of Iran?

The following table will help teachers and librarians walk through a reflective growth process with Zahra's Paradise. Hopefully, in the final column teachers, librarians, and students will be able to read, generate, and synthesize their own research in an effort to better understand and care for the politics and the people of Iran.


Reading #1:Chapters 1–5

Reading # 2:Chapters 6-10

Reading # 3:Chapters 11-15

Reading # 4:Chapters 16–20

What have you
learned about
Zahra, the journalist?


What have you learned about
Mehdi and his family?

How does the
Internet or any
other social
media influence the story
being told?

After they finish reading and have filled out each column and row in the above table, ask students to conduct their own research on the 2009 Iranian Presidential elections. Ask them to use social media, like the Internet or www.youtube.com, to learn more about this historical event and time period.

Once they have conducted their research students can fill out the following, second table.

Your Research on the 2009 Iranian Presidential Elections

1. What important information did you find?


 2. How does your research collaborate with or differ from Zahra’s Paradise?


 3. Pretend the writer, Amir, and the illustrator, Khalil, are available for an interview. As a result of your research, what questions would you want to ask them?


Finally, ask students to share their research findings and final reflective thoughts on Zahra's Paradise

Katie Monnin, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy at the University of North Florida and author of Teaching Graphic Novels: Practical Strategies for the Secondary ELA Classroom (2010) from Maupin House. To learn more about Teaching Graphic Novels or Katie Monnin, please go to this link: http://www.maupinhouse.com/monnin.php.