Nora G. Hertel for St. Cloud Times
Dave Schwarz / AP
Children want to see characters who look like them, said Hudda Ibrahim.
Last year, her niece Fatima asked why books don’t have characters like her.
“I said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll fix it,’” Ibrahim said.
In April her children’s book came out under the title, “What Color is My Hijab?”Ibrahim’s book features Muslim women in various professions — pilot, businesswoman, politician — doing their work while wearing a hijab, a traditional head scarf.
Because of COVID-19, Ibrahim didn’t hold a typical book launch. She may do so next year and hold Facebook events in the meantime.
The book had support before it was published, and Ibrahim crowdfunded it through Kickstarter. A Spanish version of the story is in the works now, she said.
Ibrahim is excited about her first children’s book with colorful art by California-based illustrator Meenal Patel. She talked about it with the St. Cloud Times at Lake George in late June.
“I’m so excited to have this opportunity to produce such a work so that kids who look like me and kids who don’t look like me will read this book and learn something from it,” she said.
“This book helps both those kids who want to see themselves represented in the literature and those who are wondering why these kids dress different or look different.”
Hudda Ibrahim displays one of the illustrations in her new children’s book “What Color Is My Hijab” during an interview Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in St. Cloud, Minn. (Dave Schwarz / AP
Ibrahim sees herself as a bridge builder and cultural broker.She does that work as president and founder of Filsan Talent Partners, which helps companies diversify their workforces. And she does that work in classrooms at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, where she teaches diversity and social justice.
“What Color is My Hijab?” is significant because it features the hijab and because it features diversity among Muslim women, said Megan Kalk, who works with Ibrahim at Filsan Talent. The women in the book are different races. They wear different types of clothing. They have different abilities
Kalk likes that the book shows Muslim women with various skills, including athletics and professional skills. Her 9-year-old daughter wears a hijab.
“She’s got all these opportunities open to her,” Kalk said. “It’s empowering for girls to see women in a lot of different careers.”
Ibrahim told Kalk about the book idea before she wrote it. The next day, it was finshed, Kalk said.
“She works all the time with about a million ideas on the table at once,” Kalk said.
Ibrahim’s book about the Somali refugee experience, “From Somalia to Snow,” was published in 2017.
Ibrahim didn’t attend kindergarten as many of her young readers do, she said. Her family was fleeing civil war when she was kindergarten age.
Ibrahim grew up in Africa and her younger sister Lula Ibrahim grew up in the U.S
“At some point in childhood you start to realize that none of those characters relate to you, other than being a kid,” said Lula Ibrahim. “If I would have come across a book like this (as a child), it would have made me happy.”
Lula and Hudda’s nieces love “What Color is My Hijab?” and want Hudda to write more books, Lula said.
Ibrahim has suggested that Fatima, the now 8-year-old who inspired the book, become her illustrator, because she’s an artist.
“Little kids are encouraging this which shows how much this is needed,” Lula said. “I would like to encourage more authors of color and of different faiths and different kinds of people to know that there are children waiting to see things like this.”
Ibrahim wrote the book for girls like Fatima. And she wrote it for other children who don’t wear a hijab, so they can better understand the kids who do
Her students at the technical and community college ask her why she wears a hijab. Others have asked her if she wears it because her husband or father insist, Ibrabim said. But it’s her decision. She wears a hijab to show modesty and to show pride in her heritage, culture and values, she said.
“We — I’m talking about the refugees and immigrants who are coming to this country — we are educating ourselves every single day about our new country and culture and its values,” Ibrahim said. She hopes her book will educate kids and parents about their Muslim neighbors.
“This book is really telling the story of diversity and inclusion and inspiring young girls to be proud of who they are.”