Queen Goharshad -- Brave with Beauty -- a Multicultural Children's Book Day Review


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Have you ever heard of Queen Goharshad? She was queen of Khorashan back in the 1400s. Khorashan was in present day Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. She is remembered for the buildings she built including the Goharshad Mosque (in present day Iran) and for supporting the arts. Today I get to share with you a wonderful picture book based on this amazing woman and her accomplishments. The book is called Brave with Beauty: A Story of Afghanistan by Maxine Rose Schur with art by Patricia Grush, Robin Dewitt, and Golsa Yaghoobi. It is recommended for ages 7 to 9.

From the Publisher:

Seven centuries ago, when the great caravans journeyed to the edges of the world, there lived a girl who loved all things of beauty.

Her name was Goharshad.

This is the extraordinary story of Queen Goharshad, a 15th-century monarch, who many historians now believe was one of the most powerful women in world history. Ruling from the Timurid artistic and cultural center of Herat in western Afghanistan, Queen Goharshad ushered in a remarkable period when poetry, music, calligraphy, painting, and the sciences flourished as never before. A poet and an architect, she designed some of the most beautiful structures ever built on earth.

This story is a celebration of a remarkable woman—talented, generous, benevolent, and brave—whose achievements are an inspiration for young readers to use their strengths to make the world a more beautiful place.

From Me:

This is a fictional story about a historical real person. I found it fascinating to learn a bit about Queen Goharshad. It amazes me the power she had as well as her love of art and beauty. The story begins with her as a child dreaming of poetry and art. At age 14, she is married to Shah Rukh, the King of Khorasan. The story tells of how she wanted to create beauty in the city of Herat, the capital of Khorasan. In the book she brings music, a school, a library, and a garden to Herat as well as a beautiful mosque to Khorasan. She works with the architect, Qavam al-Din Shirazi to create the buildings. The mosque is now in Mashhad, Iran. The garden and buildings in Herat are in ruins today. 

Goharshad Mosque - 1977
Goharshad Mosque Photo Source: (unknown photographer), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I personally found the story fascinating. It is well written and the art in the book is beautiful. I love that she creates a college for women and a library to hold the books for all to learn. The book even includes a bit about the legend of the old woman wanting a mosque named after her or at least part of the mosque named after her since she would have to sell her house of the queen to build it. Apparently, there is a pool that is named the Old Woman's Mosque. (Source) This book has me wanting to learn more about Queen Goharshad and her time.

With a little research I learned about the mosque. It is still standing today. Queen Goharshad was murdered in Herat and after her death they named the mosque after her. (Source) The construction began in 1418 by order of the queen. It took about 12 years to complete. More buildings have been added to the mosque, but the original building is still the main part. It has also been renovated several times over the years. (Source)

Her husband, Shah Rukh, was the fourth son of Timur (Tamerlane), the founder of the Timurid Dynasty. Upon the death of Timur his sons fought for control. Shah Rukh won the majority of the territory. However, he tried to rule in peace and supported the arts. Goharshad was one of his wives. (Source) Another person of note is their son, Ulūgh Beg. Ulūgh Beg is a well-known astronomer and built an observatory in Samarkand. He also found errors in Ptolemy's computations. (Source)

Activities to go with the book:

Since Queen Goharshad was into beauty and buildings, it seems that looking at the architecture and art of the time makes sense. She was Islamic which means her buildings and art would not portray people or animals as many people believe that the teachings of Muhammed forbade it. Instead, intricate geometric designs were used to decorate the buildings and artwork. As a geometry teacher, I taught lessons on creating Islamic styled art with the kids. 

For younger kids I would suggest having them make Islamic art designs using pattern blocks or tiles. If you do not have pattern blocks, you can print some (with different color choices) for each child. I suggest printing them on cardstock so they will wear well. I love that there is an option for black and white ones so the kids can color the blocks how they want. I decided to try to recreate one of the designs found in the Goharshad Mosque. Here is the picture from which I worked.

I'tikaf in Goharshad Mosque (13970112000559636582232881384241 51696)
Photo Source: Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here is how I lay out the pattern blocks. I tried to create the pattern inside the alcove. Note: I printed the jewel colored pattern blocks.

Kids of course can also make their own tiling designs. It is a wonderful lesson combining Islamic art with geometry. There are more you can do with older kids as well. The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a brochure with several here. Art of Mathematics also shares some ideas here. Nurture Store has one using square grid paper and discusses line symmetry here. Art Lessons for Kids has a great one they suggest for Grade 5. Yali Books also offers an Activity Guide for Educators that includes one with Islamic art on the Brave with Beauty page. When I taught geometry, we would create an Islamic themed mandala using our compass and straight edge. I did this back when we taught more about geometric constructions. A great resource for it is Discovering Geometry: An Inductive Approach by Michael Serra. I used the first edition that was published in 1993. Here is one I made rather quickly today.

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