The Swirling Hijaab by Na’ima bint Robert, illustrated by Nilesh Mistry and published by Mantra Lingua, is a beautiful and imaginative exploration of a hijaab, a Muslim woman’s head covering.
The story follows a little girl who introduces us to her mother’s hijaab and then takes us inside her imagination with the hijaab acting as the inspiration for each new experience. As the little girl swirls her mother’s hijaab it becomes a Bedouin tent, a fortress, the cloak of a warrior queen; the possibilities are endless.
As well as these wonderful adventures, we see the hijaab providing this girl with comfort when her mum isn’t at home and a place to rest as she snuggles up underneath it.
Full, double page illustrations in soft colours immerse us in the hijaab adventures with the little girl at the front of each scene, her features are drawn with such fine detail and are full of expression.
At the end of the story we come back to the purpose of a hijaab cementing its importance and relevance to Muslims: “covering my mum as part of her faith is what the hijaab does best.” What this book manages to do so elegantly is unravel the mystery of the hijaab, which is hugely misunderstood by some, in a purely innocent way through the eyes of a child.
Books for children that highlight diverse cultures are so important, for children of those cultures to be able to see themselves in a book and relate to it is incredibly powerful. Not only does this book show a Muslim family and talk about a hijaab but the places that the little girl goes to on her imaginative travels are different to the ones you would expect in books from western culture; travelling across the desert with nomad travellers, African tribes and a Bedouin family. Even the fortress is drawn with a Middle-Eastern architectural style.
My four-year-old often has lots of questions about different people and their different beliefs. We belong to a religion that is part of the minority and we spend lots of time discussing this as he begins to find his way in the world. Picture books like this are a perfect way to build on and strengthen his understanding.
This book has been published as a dual language book by Mantra Lingua in over 20 languages. Our copy, which we borrowed from the library, is in English and French but it is also available in many languages that aren’t Latin script such as Urdu, Cantonese and Tamil. You can see the full range of languages available here. The dual language editions allow this book to be instantly accessible to children who are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL learners), a truly valuable resource for any library or school.
A perfect book for learning about Islam, exploring other cultures and firing imaginations.
Na’ima bint Robert has written many books for children and adults, you can find out more about her work on her website here.