The Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue
Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K.Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Andersen Press

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.

Coping the Change: Charlie Star / How to Feed Your Parents

Charlie Star
Terry Milne
Old Barn Books

Charlie Star is a dachshund with a difference; he suffers from anxiety and it makes him exhibit repetitive behaviours. The creature is frightened that if he doesn’t do certain things such as checking under his bed and always walking the same side of a tree on the way to market, or lining up his toys neatly every night, something terrible will happen. He uses these routines to hold his anxiety at bay: it sounds to me as though he may have OCD.

One day however, an emergency occurs: his friend Hans is in trouble and is in urgent need of Charlie’s help.

Off dashes the dog not stopping to carry out all his usual routine actions to discover that Hans has his head stuck in a length of pipe as a result of a game of hide-and-seek.

Good old Charlie comes up with a clever way of extricating his friend and thus learns that a change in routine isn’t quite so scary after all.

That day his thought as he goes to bed is “Forgot everything today but things turned out okay.”

But what about the following day? Does he revert to his usual routine sequence? The answer is yes but also no for now Charlie knows that the occasional change isn’t a disaster and perhaps it might lead to something wonderful…

I love the focus on the importance of friendship at the end of the story.
The author/illustrator has a daughter who exhibits anxiety and repetitive behaviour and as a result she wrote this story to reassure other children who might have similar struggles. Assuredly, with its wonderfully expressive illustrations, it’s a good starting point for opening discussion on the topic, particularly in the way it demonstrates that change isn’t really so scary as we might suppose.

How to Feed Your Parents
Ryan Miller and Hatem Aly
Sterling

Matilda Macaroni is an adventurous eater, eager to try new foods, not so her mum and dad. They insist on sticking to half a dozen items – chicken, macaroni, burgers, grilled cheese, pizza and cereal.

In contrast Matilda’s foray into other fare starts when she tastes her grandma’s jambalaya and continues as she tries goulash (at Grandma’s), sushi – at a sleepover and pork paprika on a play date.
She comes to the conclusion that the only way to get her parents to sample different foods is to take over the kitchen and do the cooking herself. With the help of her gran, she soon learns the niceties of knife wielding, cookbooks become her bedtime reading and her babysitter shops at the local farmers’ market for the necessary ingredients.

It’s not long before the young miss has a repertoire of tasty dishes she wants to share with her mum and dad; the next task is to get them to sample some.

She decides on one of their favourites for supper – burgers – albeit with a few modifications.

“There are mushrooms on it. And green things,” protests her mum. But what will be the verdict when they sink their teeth into the only thing on offer that night?

A comic, wackily illustrated role-reversal tale that might even persuade young picky eaters to adopt Matilda’s parents revised attitude at the end of the tale and try anything.