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The Proudest Blue

The Proudest Blue

Ibtihaj Muhammad
Andersen Press Ltd
ISBN: 9781783449712

The Proudest Blue is the simple story of a girl choosing her first hijab and wearing it to school for the first time, accompanied by her adoring little sister. There might not be a story at all, were it not for the ugly truth of Islamophobic bullying that wearing hijab can unleash. The authors, Olympic fencing medallist Ibtihaj Muhammad and SK Ali, can speak of this from experience but their book is subtle, not angry.

The simple illustrations and story-telling style give the story an air of innocence, while confronting the prejudices faced by Muslim girls. Told from the perspective of the younger sister, Faizah, the preconceptions behind the 'whispers, laughs and shouts' are understated. Instead, the tone is set by the title: The Proudest Blue. The language remains resolutely positive.

Faizah's descriptions of Asiya's hijab show the admiration of the younger child for her glamorous, grown-up older sister. It is beautiful, 'the brightest blue, the colour of the ocean, like the sky on a sunny day' and 'strong and friendly'. In it, Asiya becomes a 'princess'.

Faizah's actions show that she is unnerved by the hurtful questions and reactions of other children at school. She finds herself whispering without realizing why. She needs to find her sister for another hug and a smile. She runs from the boy who yells that he will pull that tablecloth off your head. But the situation is redeemed by Asiya's serene confidence (at least, that's all we see). She acts as a strong role model for her younger sister and for other Muslim girls wearing hijab in unsympathetic circumstances.

Children I teach report troubling encounters with Islamophobic behaviour when they aren't protected by school. There is a need to be open about this and to educate for understanding and tolerance of hijab. I would thoroughly recommend this book as a starting point that would fit perfectly into PSHE and RE lessons. I've used it successfully in a reading club with children in Years 1 and 2 but it would resonate, I think, with children throughout primary schools.

I'll finish with one golden nugget of advice, useful for any children on the end of any unkind comments, that I've found myself quoting often since reading the book: 'Don't carry around the hurtful words that others say. Drop them. They are not yours to keep.' Calm, practical and soothing in the way it releases the child from the insult, it also exudes quiet strength - like The Proudest Blue.

Picture book / Ages 5+ / Reviewed by Louisa Farrow, teacher


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