You may recognize the author’s name from her success at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where she earned the bronze medal competing for the American fencing team (while wearing a hijab). Ibtihaj Muhammad was born and raised in Maplewood, New Jersey, and is of African American descent. Her parents converted to Islam and raised their five children as Muslims. S.K. Ali is an award-winning author of books for young adults.
This picture book for ages 4-10 tells the story of Faizah, a little girl who is about to get her first hijab. Her mother suggests she choose pink, but Faizah wants a blue hijab matching the one worn by her sister Asiya. Faizah reasons:
“Asiya’s hijab isn’t a whisper.
Asiya’s hijab is like the sky on a sunny day.
The sky isn’t a whisper.
It’s always there, special and regular.”
Asiya has gotten teased and bullied because of her hijab, but Mama helps shore up her confidence, explaining:
“Some people won’t understand your hijab… But if you understand who you are, one day they will too.”
Mama also advises Asiya:
“Don’t carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.”
Faizah can’t wait to wear the same hijab as Asiya: “Saying I’ll always be here, like sisters. Like me and Asiya.”
The author, in an Afterword, explains that she too was bullied as a child for wearing the hijab. She writes:
“You wouldn’t think that a simple headscarf could cause such commotion, but throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, it has. It isn’t easy, and I’m sure girls today face the same treatment – or worse – than what I faced.”
Thus she was inspired to write this story to help children in the same position see kids like themselves in a picture book, and read about feeling pride in wearing a hijab. She wants them to hear “that the parts of ourselves that might make us appear ‘different’ are worth celebrating.”
“My hijab is part of me – it’s a testament to my faith and love of Allah. . . . My hijab is beautiful. To the young girls out there reading this story who are hijabis: So is yours.”
S.K. Ali added in an interview about the book:
“THE PROUDEST BLUE is an exploration of the pride, warmth and happiness that many Muslim girls feel, twinned with the reality of a world that doesn’t accept that this could be the case. . . . . this constant internal turmoil didn’t and doesn’t now erase the beauty we found in being Muslim, and the strength we developed in sustaining that belief in an increasingly hostile world.
That’s why THE PROUDEST BLUE ends on a note of the kind of gutsy resilience that’s carried Ibtihaj and I and all our sisters in the faith to who we are today as strong women, women who don’t let others dictate the terms of our happiness.”
The illustrator, Hatem Aly, uses a style reminiscent of comics and graphic novels. His ink-wash and watercolor artwork cleverly shows the bullies only as faceless silhouettes, while the sisters stand out as well-defined in their strength.
Evaluation: Bullying by children aimed at those perceived to be “different” for any reason remains common and often devastating to those on the receiving end. Books like this may help increase the resilience of those who are attacked and the understanding of those who aren’t. The story also is commendable for showing the importance of the loving support of family members.
Published by Little Brown and Company, 2019