Beneath My Mother's Feet

Beneath My Mother's Feet

For Ages: 12 and up
  • reading group guide
  • 5awards
"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not."

Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing for her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food.

Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future -- after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.
Choose a format:
  • Atheneum Books for Young Readers | 
  • 208 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781442407053 | 
  • October 2009 | 
  • Grades 7 and up
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Reading Group Guide

Pre-Reading Activity
The title Beneath My Mother's Feet comes from one of the many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad about mothers: "The gates of heaven lie beneath the mother's feet." Elsewhere, another narrator reports that "I asked the Prophet who has the greatest right over a man, and he said, 'His mother.'" Clearly, mothers hold a special place in a Muslim household. Ask students to write a one-page essay about their mothers or another significant female relative.
Discussion Topics
1) We learn early on that Nazia likes school and has the respect of her teacher Ms. Haroon. How is her school similar to your school? How is it different? Why is Nazia so devastated when her mother pulls her out of school to work? Discuss the part school plays in Nazia's hopes and dreams.
2) As the book opens, we meet Nazia's neighbors and friends, Maleeha and Saira. As Nazia's circumstances change, she again meets her friends who respond to her in very different ways. When Nazia encounters Saira in the market, how does Saira react and what are her reasons for her behavior? What happens when Nazia asks Maleeha for help? Who is the better friend and why?
3) Soon Nazia must grow up fast to help her family stay together. She longs for her older brother, Bilal, to return home so she can "be a little sister again." What does she lose as she gains more responsibility? What does she find out about herself and the members of her family as each responds to hi see more

About the Author

Amjed Qamar
photo courtesy of the author

Amjed Qamar

Amjed Qamar graduated from The Ohio State University with degrees in English and psychology. She currently resides in Ohio and works for the Dublin City School District. Amjed lived in Pakistan for several years and returns regularly. This is her first book.


Author Revealed

Q. how did you come to write Beneath My Mother's Feet?

A. By now, so many people have asked me this question. Generally, I say, well, I travelled to Pakistan, lived there for many years, and I enjoy writing. But in reality, it goes beyond that.

There was a point during my stay in Karachi where I'd seen so many families facing misfortune that I almost turned away. There was one time I was sitting in a car waiting and a little boy came up to my car window and begged me for money to buy food. I had already given so much too so many like him, but I did it again.

It was hot, I was tired, pregnant, and desperately wanted to get home and have an ice cold diet Pepsi. The little boy asked for more. And more kids came. I rolled up my window. I turned away. They tapped and tapped. I wished them away. They didn't tap harder or raise their voices. They just prayed for my unborn child and asked me to pray for them. That just broke my heart.

My soon to be born child would have everything, including their prayers. What would they be left with? I gave again. And wondered how long would it be before I forgot about them. Who would remember these kids on the street?

I think that was when the seed was first planted in my mind. The seed of a story about children who struggled for everything, but still had heart. They were good people caught up in bad times. It was not their fault. Someone had to share their stories.

There were so many stories. Nazia, the main character in Beneath My Mother's Feet, came to be when I started wondering about the backstory of these kids and their families. Hopefully, I did them justice.

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