Illustrated by Hatem Aly
For ages 4-8
I spied the cover for this adorable sequel to one of 2020's bestselling picture books, 'The Proudest Blue', across the room at the London Book Fair last year. I had a little moment of barely containable bookish excitement. Co-author, Ibtihaj Muhammad is not just a trailblazer as the first Muslim woman wearing a hijab to compete (and win a medal) at the Olympics for the USA, but, along with her creative team, is a trailblazer in children's publishing for children of colour and Muslim culture. So wonderful!
During the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, in a moment of despair about children not being able to access books, I created a TV channel on YouTube called 'Moon Lane TV' and started up a series called 'HipHop Love Books'. Many of my friends in the hiphop world very kindly gave their time for free to create story time videos for children to watch - the most successful of which was by the tremendously lovely Akil the MC from Jurassic 5 reading 'The Proudest Blue'. I'd really recommend giving it a watch with the kids!! Here's the link: https://youtu.be/AVXkUWrSGjc
'World Hijab Day' takes place on 1st February and although 'The Kindest Red' published on 5th January and I would usually share a book on publication day with my KS1 Book Club, I saved it until this week especially.
Joyfully, most of the children were already familiar with 'The Proudest Blue', and I had a copy to hand to show them if they weren't. I started off by showing the children the YouTube video, created by the US publisher, of Ibtihaj Muhammad introducing the book and telling readers why she wrote it and how important it is for all children to see themselves in a book (available to watch further down in this post). The children were captivated and all crowded round the iPad and hung on Muhammad's every word.
Next I asked the children whether they were familiar with a religion that might be associated with wearing a hijab. Blank faces... I asked if they'd heard of Islam. No response... No worries, I explained just enough for them in the brief time we had together so that they would understand enough about the Muslim faith and culture (and what wearing a hijab means) for the context of the story. (N.B. This is a perfect example of why kids book clubs together with specially curated books are able to provide a much needed insight into the lives of those who go largely underrepresented in children's publishing and in the classroom.)
Before opening the first page of the book, I then asked the children about their school photo days. Do they get to wear smart home clothes or do they have to wear uniform? Do they like to do their hair in a special style? Can they have sibling photos? Lots of hands in the air, very chatty and the children obviously love a photo day! Great news, because now I've set the scene for the story of 'The Kindest Red'.
About the book
It's all excitement at home one morning as sisters, Faizah and Asiya get ready for school - it's Picture Day at school! Faizah is thrilled to be wearing her Mama's and then Asiya's beautiful red dress for the occasion. The sisters help each other get ready - Asiya does Faizah's hair in a really cute style and Faizah slides a beautiful sparkly scarf pin into her big sister's hijab.
Once at school the children continue with their exciting day, seeing each other in their dresses, smart ties and such. So fun! Once settled at their desks, teacher Ms Ramirez wants the children to think about what kind of world they want to live in. WOW that's a massive question - I pause to look at the children, I can see they are really thinking about it and I wait a few moments before moving on. The children in the classroom think of some really wonderful and diverse types of worlds - from ice cream worlds to healthy worlds. Hatem Aly's stunningly engaging and colourful illustrations fill the spreads with child-like imagination. So awesome!
After some reflection, Faizah decides that she wants a kind world, and together with her best friend Sophie they go out to spread their new kindness superpowers! Whether it's playing ball with a friend who is wheelchair bound, or helping a friend with a plaster, or tying Sophie's red sash back round her the waist of her dress for the umpteenth time... these girls are spreading their kind-power all around. So much so that the biggest act of kindness of all at the end of the story takes place when Faizah goes for her sibling photo with Asiya and they aren't matching in their outfits in any way like the other siblings. Sophie and another friend Jada come up with a plan together and make Faizah's day... they come up with the idea of making a red hijab scarf from Sophie's dress sash so that the sisters can look beautiful together in matching hijabs.
We all loved the story, and the children remarked on how "beautiful" Muhammad and her siblings look in their real family photo at the end of the book. Adorable! The story demonstrates how an act of kindness and treating another with thoughtfulness and a caring attitude pays it forward for others to behave the same way. Faizah's wish for a kind world and having led by example amongst her peers then grew more positive behaviour which then came back to her as a touching act of kindness with the borrowed red 'hijab'. Ibtihaj Muhammad and her team are creating a unique kids picture book series where the protagonists are Muslim, yet the themes of the stories and the enjoyment factor are so entirely inclusive and utterly delightful. Hope there'll be a book 3 in the series publishing next year some time!
While the children were enjoying creating their own worlds, I asked them whether they thought that we live in a world filled with kindness. There were quite a few who rather glumly shook their heads. I enthusiastically reminded the children of the story of 'The Kindest Red', and suggested that they keep thinking back to it throughout the day and think how they could grow kindness themselves today. Little smiles grew on their faces as they went back to their drawing. So sweet. Do check out the brilliant FREE creative activity download for yourself (scroll down for link).
Here are the first few pages of the story...
Thanks to the book's US publisher, Little, Brown's 'The Kindest Red' colouring activity sheet, the children very much enjoyed creating their own ideas for what kind of world they'd like to live in. We had 'Helpful World', 'Sweeties World', 'Unicorn World' and more! Why don't you have a go!
CLPE teaching notes:
About the creators
Ibtihaj Muhammad (author)
Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American sabre fencer, is a 2016 Olympic medalist, 5-time Senior World medalist and World Champion in the sport of fencing. In August 2016, she became the first American woman to compete in the Olympics in hijab and is also the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic medal for the United States. Ibtihaj is a 3-time All American from Duke University, with a dual degree in International Relations and African Studies. In 2014, Ibtihaj launched her own clothing company, Louella, which aims to bring affordable modest fashion to the United States market. This summer, Mattel released their first hijabi Barbie doll, modeled in Ibtihaj’s likeness, as part of Barbie’s “Shero” line of dolls. Ibtihaj’s memoir, PROUD: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream is available for purchase in both adult and young readers edition.
Ibtihaj is a sports ambassador with the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sport Initiative, and works closely with organizations like Athletes for Impact and the Special Olympics. Named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential list, Ibtihaj is an important figure in a larger global discussion on equality and the importance of sport. Her voice continues to unite both the sports and non-sports world.
S. K. Ali (author)
S. K. Ali is the author of "Saints and Misfits", a finalist for the American Library Association's 2018 William C.Morris award, and the winner of the APALA Honor Award and Middle EastBook Honor Award. "Saints and Misfits", and her second novel, "Love from A to Z", were both best YA books of the year as named by Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the American Library Association. "Love from A to Z" was the first teen novel chosen for NBC Today Show's Read with Jenna book club. Her newest novel, "Misfit in Love", was a People Magazine best book of summer 2021. "The Proudest Blue", her picture book co-authored with Ibtihaj Muhammad, was an instant New York Times Bestseller. Along with Aisha Saeed, she's the co-editor of a critically acclaimed anthology of middle grade stories called "Once Upon an Eid".
Interested in a variety of genres and literary forms, S. K. Ali is currently working on books that reflect this love. She can be found on twitter (@sajidahwrites), on instagram (@skalibooks), on TikTok (@skalibooks), and reached through her website's contact page: www.skalibooks.com.
Hatem Aly (illustrator)
Hatem Aly is an Egyptian-born artist whose work ranges from editorial illustration to comics, graphic novels, and children's books. Hatem lives in Bathurst, New Brunswick, with his wife, son, a houseful of pets.
"I enjoy books like The Kindest Red because they have the ability to maintain a personal and emotional tone right up until the very last page." - Hatem Aly
school photo day
Grab a copy
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“Helping others looks fun and rewarding in this sweet tale that empowers readers…. A loving and lovely celebration of the many ties—sisterly, friendship, communal—that bind.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Publication date: 5 January 2023
Also available in this series:
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