May 6 — 6:57 pm, 2020

The Reading Quilt: ‘Does My Head Look Big in This?’

A Muslim writer explores Islamophobia.

Rachel Slaughter

From the cover of Does My Head Look Big in this by Randa Abdel-Fattah

As adults may remember, the teen years are when you strive to be more like others and nothing like yourself. Individuality is social suicide. Instead, teens spend hours flooding social media with selfies that prove that they are following the adolescent social order: cloning for acceptance. Every once in a while, we hear of a teenager who bucks the system and goes rogue, risking alienation. 

The yearning to be accepted and loved as an individual in spite of the magnetic pull to think like the crowd is difficult for boys, but it is especially hard for girls, who are bombarded with images depicting female perfection. Alicia Keys, the singer and songwriter, details her distress with female perfection in her new book, More Myself: A Journey. In her life, Keys wins the struggle to define herself “in a world that rarely encourages a true and unique identity.”

Randa Abdel-Fattah‘s first novel, Does My Head Look Big in This?, mirrors the concept. 

Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book or play that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, we offer readers information about the Quality of writing, Universal theme, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise.

This month’s selection is Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2005). 

Randa Abdel-Fattah was born to Palestinian and Egyptian parents in 1979 in Sydney, Australia. She began her writing career in her late teens. While studying at the University of Melbourne, Abdel-Fattah found opportunities to write for various newspapers. Using that platform, Abdel-Fattah found the courage to hold the media responsible for their representation of Muslims. After completing her undergraduate degree, Randa continued her education, earning a Ph.D. for her studies of Islamophobia. That work laid the foundation for her writing award-winning books. Randa, who is outspoken about various issues, including women’s rights, is a popular public speaker. 

Quality of writing: Abdel-Fattah’s book tells the story of Amal Mohamed Nasrullah Abdel-Hakim, a 16-year-old Australian Palestinian-Muslim girl who could have easily melted into the social pot without raising any eyebrows. Instead, she decides to honor her religion by wearing the hijab, a scarf that covers the head and chest and is worn by some Muslim women. Afraid that the students at McCleans Preparatory School may reject her, Amal’s parents aren’t thrilled with the idea. Despite their fears, she wears the hijab, which represents modesty, to school. Abdel-Fattah‘s use of natural dialogue brings to life realistic characters who spit in the face of Amal’s religious bravery. 

Universal theme: Despite parental dismay and Islamophobia, Amal prevails in achieving self-expression and religious freedom, bringing to mind strong-willed women such as  Linda Sarsour, who co-chaired the 2017 Women’s March and was named one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” that year.

Imaginative plot: Abdel-Fattah hoped to give her readers a story that “debunked the common misconceptions about Muslims, which allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes,” she said.

Lesson plan: Islamophobia, an exaggerated and illogical fear of Muslims that may incite a person to show aggression toward them, is on the rise in the United States. Students can learn why this fear has increased since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks (also referred to as 9/11).

Talking Points: 

What are some of the most significant instances of Islamophobic attacks that have occurred in the United States?

If a person said “all terrorists are Muslims” in your presence, how would you respond?

Do you think Muslims condemn terrorism?

Dr. Rachel Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. Her new book titled “Turning the Page: The Ultimate Guide for Teachers to Multicultural Literature ” will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2020.  To contact her, email literacyuniversity@gmail.com. For other multicultural literary suggestions, visit literacyuniversity.org.

 

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