Picture Books: Depth in a Short, Tight Package

The vast majority of picture books are less than 500 words long. And, yet they include everything that a longer book has and often more. This was brought home to me as I read The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Does the name Ibtihaj Muhammad seem familiar to you? Think Olympics. Think gold medal. She is the first American fencer to compete in hijab. The illustrator is Hatem Aly who also wears hijab.

This is the story of a young girl, Faizah, whose sister decides to wear hijab to school. Her sister’s friends and her own friends are supportive but there are other kids, kids who yell hateful things. For me, the best part of the story was how her sister deals with the hate. She simply shrugs it off. I have to tell you in this day when so many people chant and carry signs and post online, a girl simply living her religion was a breath of fresh air.

So what are the layers of a top-notch story found in this picture book?

Character

Asiya decides to wear hijab and it would have been very easy to create a second girl, the younger sister, who was simply a reflection of the first. But Faizah is her own person wearing her light-up shoes and counting her steps. Still she is someone who cares about her sister and that comes through loud and clear.

Staying Power

Some books demonstrate this staying power through humor. They make the reader laugh aloud and want to revisit the book again and again. Other books are like a warm hug and this book is of the hug variety. The sisters’ love for each other and their willingness to explain things to their classmates and friends warmed my heart.

Windows and Mirrors

Young girls who wear hijab will find themselves looking into mirrors with this book, seeing themselves and their female relatives in the cast of characters. But it is also an excellent window for non-Muslim reader, allowing them to gaze into the why and how of hijab.

Adult and Kid Appeal

Young readers will see themselves in Faizah, who finds herself confronting feelings that seem too big to face alone. But adults will also be drawn to this book, especially if they feel compelled to provide windows and mirrors to the young readers in their lives.

Not all books for young readers need the same level of adult appeal that picture books need to have. The reality is that a child won’t sit through a picture book that doesn’t engage them but an adult won’t buy a picture book they don’t find engaging.

Check out The Proudest Blue and experience a picture book that works in so many ways.

–SueBE

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