by Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, and Celeste Trimble, St. Martin’s University, Lacey, WA
Abilities and disabilities go hand in hand and their representations in children’s picturebooks know no bounds, especially in recent publications. In the instance of strengths and abilities; one observes multiple representations of tennis players in recent brilliant picturebooks such as Game Changers: The story of Venus and Serena Williams by the Ransomes, Sisters by Jeanette Winter, Serena: The Littlest Sister by Karlin Gray and Monica Ahanonu. Recently Simone Biles made history when she became the gymnast with the most World medals and most World gold medals of any gender, as well as the female gymnast with the most World all-around titles. This alone may assure Biles presence in future books. Reading about success stories through picturebooks provide inspiration for children of all ages. For the month of January 2020, we will take on the power of strengths and abilities especially those of little-known athletes of local and global origins.
SEEMI: Olympic medalist and social justice activist Ibtihaj Muhammad along with S.K. Ali write about an experience from both their childhoods. This story is simply about a young girl whose older sister is going to be wearing the hijab for the first time in public (her school). The mother takes Asiya to a hijab shop to choose a color that most reflects her. Her younger sister, Faizah, accompanies her. The color of the hijab that Asiya chooses is a brilliant blue that reflects the sky and the sea. Asiya is bullied in school about her hijab but she fights back with confidence that only a child who is loved and appreciated by her family can. She thus becomes a role model for her younger sibling and other younger girls to follow when time comes for them to choose to wear the hijab.
This book is written and illustrated by Muslims. Muslim children as well as others need to see strong Muslim role models outside of family and this book does just that. It is an experience that many Muslim girls relate to. The concept of choice, which is the right of every Muslim girl, is predominantly articulated within this strong and powerful narrative.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is a fencer and the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games and win a medal at the Olympic Games (bronze in the women’s saber team event.) she is an activist, speaker and entrepreneur. Ibtihaj has written a memoir, Proud, and she has inspired the creation of first hijab-wearing Barbie. S. K. Ali is the award-winning author of Saints and Misfits and Love from A to Z and the co-editor of an upcoming Eid anthology. As Faizah and Asiya in the book, Ali and her sister visited hijab shops every year as preparation for the first day of school to choose their color of choice. Hatem Aly is an Egyptian-born illustrator whose work has been featured on television and in multiple publications worldwide. Among other books, he illustrated Newbery Honor winning novel The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz.
CELESTE: Before I had this book in my hands, I imagined that Muhammad’s fencing career, or at least a mention of fencing, might make its way into the book. However, although this sport is not mentioned, the characteristics that surely contributed to her high-level skills are apparent throughout.
We always talk about sports teaching kids important lessons that go beyond sporting: perseverance, work ethic, fairness, healthy competition, et cetera. I have seen this idea in children’s books as well. Sports teaches us to be better people. However, in The Proudest Blue, I see quite the opposite. The characteristics that Muhammad learned from her family and her culture, as well as probably being just a part of who she is, are in my mind what has contributed to her abilities in sports.
“‘The first day of wearing hijab is important,’ Mama had said. ‘It means being strong.'” Not only do I read about this strength, but the images support a kind of joyful strength that is admirable and enviable.
SEEMI: I so agree that the book should have had more than the references to the athletic nature of the younger sister.
[Editor Note: The Proudest Blue was the WOW Recommends: Book of the Month for November 2019.]
Title: The Proudest Blue
Author: Ibtihaj Muhammad
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
PubDate: September 10, 2019
Reviews and Awards
Booklist starred, 09/01/19, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 10/01/19, Kirkus Reviews starred, 07/01/19, New York Times, 08/18/19, Publishers Weekly starred, 07/22/19, School Library Journal starred, 09/01/19
Throughout January 2020, Seemi and Celeste give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!