The Proudest Blue
Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K.Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
This is a powerful and empowering book created by team Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer and the first Muslim woman in hijab to represent the US, novelist A.K. Ali and artist Hatem Aly.
We first meet Asiya and her younger sister, Faizah when their Mama takes the girls to a hijab shop for Asiya to make her choice for that important ‘first-day hijab’.
The following morning the sisters leave for school, Faizah (the narrator) sporting snazzy new trainers and wearing a new backpack, Asiya wearing her brightest blue hijab that reminds her sister of the colour of the ocean, if you squint your eyes and pretend there’s no line between the water and the sky. “I’m walking with a princess” Faizah tells us and “Her hijab smiles at me the whole way.”
Once at school however, the comments from other children start. These are alternated with meditative spreads showing and telling of Faizah’s thoughts about her sister’s hijab, along with Mama’s words.
A bully boy starts laughing.
Come break time, the bullying continues with one boy shouting at Asiya, “I’m going to pull that tablecloth off your head.”
Her sister recalls Mama’s wise words “Don’t carry around hurtful words … they belong only to those who said them.”
At the end of the day it’s a strong, smiling Asiya who awaits Faizah and together they return home, Faizah proudly carrying the picture she’s drawn in class of the two of them.
Having shown the bullies her back, now she too is beginning to appreciate and understand the beauty and strength Asiya and mother see in her hijab.
This beautifully, lyrically told story that highlights the importance of family bonds, with its sensitive illustrations wherein bullies are depicted as faceless, is a must for inclusion on classroom bookshelves.
It also celebrates Muslim girls who are hijabis. I have taught Muslim girls, some of whom as young as seven, have suddenly turned up wearing a hijab and I’ve not thought it appropriate to question them; and I have many Muslim friends both here in the UK and in India but none of them wears a hijab. So I’ve not had an opportunity to talk with young hijabis about this topic, or the coming of age rite it signifies in this book. I found this superb story enlightening, and uplifting in its clear messages about equality and the power of women.