Diversity in children’s books week: The Swirling Hijaab by Na’ima bint Robert

This week is all about diversity in children’s books, being promoted by The Guardian children’s books team (follow their twitter account here). Beebop and I live in the UK, a multi cultural country with people from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and faiths.

The Guardian published staggering statistics, showing that out of more than 3000 books published in 2013, 93 were about black people, 34 about Native Americans, 69 about Asians and 57 about Latinos. Furthermore, children’s author Malorie Blackman received a torrent of racist abuse on Twitter when she said that there should be a wider representation of ethnicities in children’s books. Beebop and I agree wholeheartedly and we will be reviewing a range of children’s books based on other cultures, countries and faiths.

Today’s choice is The Swirling Hijaab by Na’ima bint Robert. Beebop and I are Muslim, so were immediately drawn to this book. This is the front cover:

photo 1 (10)

In the current climate, any form of literature to increase awareness, tolerance and education is of vital importance. Muslim women wear a hijaab (not just limited to a headscarf, but including arms and legs to the ankle for women, with modest behaviour to match modest clothing!) as a sign of modesty and humility to God, much like Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jewish women who are married. Hijaab also exists for Muslim men, although they are not required to wear headscarves!

Illustrations: The illustrations by Nilesh Mistry remind us very much of classical drawings and are beautifully done. The colours are bright and eye catching, showing the innocence of a child’s viewpoint on the world. Here is an example of a page where the child is comparing a hijaab to a wedding sari:

photo 2 (9)

Story: The story is essentially a young child thinking about what a hijaab means to her, The comparison that struck me was the comparison of hijaab to a warrior queen’s cloak. Muslim women wearing hijaab see it as an empowering thing, in contrast to the media representation, and that really struck home for us. It provides a simplistic explanation of hijaab for small children, of any faith, and brings it to a peaceful and beautiful conclusion on the final page. Children are not born prejudiced, racist or intolerant and using books like this as a tool for change and learning is essential. This book would be great to use in schools as a discussion tool.

If you would like to learn more about hijab, visit World Hijab Day on Facebook here to read testimonials of Muslim Women around the world.

Beebop’s score: 5/5

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