LOVE! Yes, usually when I’m so anxious for a book it disappoints, but not this one, it warmed my heart and soul and made me smile. In 40 pages surrounded with absolutely adorable illustrations, the reader feels the love between siblings, the strength of self confidence, the power of being true to yourself, the beauty of hijab, and the awesomeness of light-up sneakers and five cartwheel recesses.
It is the first day of school for sisters Asiya and Faizah, and Faizah’s first day of wearing hijab. The book starts out with the girls and their mom picking out a new scarf at the store.
The first day of school has the girls walking to school hand in hand, Asiya in her beautiful blue scarf, and Faizah in her new shoes admiring her sister as if she were a princess.
In line a classmate whisper asks Faizah about her sister, and Faizah has to find her voice to speak up about her hijab. She then likens the blue hijab to the sky, special and regular before recalling that their mom had told them “The first day of wearing hijab is important. . . It means being strong.”
Throughout the day at school Faizah checks on her sister, sees other kids make fun of her, liken the blue to something beautiful, and then recall something their mom has told them to give her solace and strength.
As Faizah puts into practice the lessons from her mom about being strong, knowing who you are, and not carrying around hurtful words, she, like her sister finds strength. A strength which radiates to those around them, and further connects the two girls.
Faizah has an amazingly sweet and authentic voice as she counts her light up steps and looks up to her older sister. I love that the story stays on track and has its own rhythm of a school incident, a strong declaration about blue, a lesson remembered from Mama and a resolution. With lots of mini climaxes the reader sees the strong perseverance and how being authentic will be challenged repeatedly. The subtly of the hijab being whispered about and then proclaimed loudly is really tender and emotion filled. Little reminders why OWN Voice stories are so important.
The illustrations are absolutely amazing on their two page spreads: the colors, tone, expressions, are perfect and a huge part of the narrative. I love that when a boy points at Asiya, not just Faizah, but Asiya’s friends too are unhappy with the boy. I also like that the boys being mean are not depicted clearly, but rather are shown in the shadows, furthering the point that mean words and those that spout them are not worthy of your time.
There are Authors’ Notes at the end and a picture of Ibtihaj and her two sisters Asiya and Faizah. I think the book should be on every shelf, truly. To be yourself and be proud of who you are is universal, as is kindness. The book does not discuss religion or mention Islamic reasons for her covering, and girls and boys alike will benefit from multiple readings of the book.