Review by Jennifer Little
“Some people won’t understand your hijab, mama had said. But if you understand who you are, one day they will too.” This affirmative message lies at the heart of Ibtihaj Muhammad’s picturebook built on the memory of her first-day hijab and the struggles she lived through wearing hijab. Ibtihaj is the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympics and to have won a bronze medal. The Proudest Blue offers a story of Asiya’s first-day hijab told from the perspective of her younger sister Faizah.
The book focuses on the first-day hijab and Faizah knows it is special. She feels as if she is walking with a princess as Asiya wears her blue hijab to school. Asiya’s hijab turns heads, some curious and some bullying. However, Faizah only sees the beauty and strength of her sister. When asked what Asiya is wearing, Faizah first whispers an answer. But, then Faizah says, “hijab isn’t a whisper, hijab is like the sky on a sunny day. The sky isn’t a whisper. It’s always there, special and regular.” When some kids yell that they are going to “pull that tablecloth” off Asiya’s head, we see Asiya run away from the bullies, ignoring them and demonstrating how strong she is in the face of unkindness. Asiya’s first-day hijab is special. It symbolizes her strength and Faizah’s hope to be just like her sister when it is time for her first day-hijab too.
This story is told by Faizah and we see how unconditionally PROUD she is of her sister’s blue hijab. Asiya has reached the age where she will wear hijab every day: her choice of the blue hijab, in the eyes of Faizah, symbolizes how special but also how regular blue is. Just like the sky: special but always there. I believe this message about hijab as something special but also normal, is key to the book’s message about cultural differences. What seems strange to one culture, may be central to another. The message we take is that being true to yourself allows others to accept you for who you are. And those who want you to be someone else are not worth listening to. As Faizah and Asiya’s mother emphasizes, “don’t carry around the hurtful words others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep. They belong only to those who said them.” This book allows us to appreciate the first-day hijab as special and normal at the same time. The blue hijab is a choice made by someone who is beautiful, strong and resilient.
Ibtihaj Muhammad’s s story highlights the strength she built by wearing hijab and by being true to herself, her faith and tradition. “My hijab is beautiful. To the young girls out there reading this story who are hijabis: so is yours.”
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly.
Little, Brown and Company, 2019, 40 pages.
Jennifer is a kindergarten teacher of energetic and eager students who are a diverse community of learners.