A black girl wearing a pink hijab with a superhero cape and a silver crown graces the cover of Zinet Kemal’s first children’s book, Proud in Her Hijab: A Story of Family Strength, Empowerment, and Identity.
A Best Buy employee working in the cloud security engineering space and proud mother of four, Zinet has two daughters who wear hijabs. When she didn’t see girls that look like them represented in literature enough, she decided to write a book of her own.
Growing up, it was normal for Zinet to see women wearing hijabs and to hear the occasional biased comment. However, the response to the head covering was different for her family when they moved to Minnesota from Ethiopia eight years ago.
“I’d hear passing comments of people saying, ‘It’s too hot to be wearing that,’” Zinet said.
She let these unsolicited comments roll off her back, but it was harder for her children who were more sensitive, especially at school. Zinet uses her book to encourage her daughters and young readers to disregard negative comments and not to feel ashamed of wearing their hijab.
“Young girls wearing hijabs should be proud of who they are and to show up bringing their whole selves to school,” Zinet said.
As a visual inspiration, Zinet illustrates her book’s main character in a soft pink hijab with embellished rhinestones.
An open book
Using a free self-publishing platform, Zinet wrote and published her book in four months. Creating the storyline came to her quickly, but the illustrations posed a challenge.
“I was being patient with the process because I had to wait longer than expected for the illustrations to be completed,” she said.
Zinet hired an illustrator online and a designer from the UK. Together, they brought her vision to life.
To make the story more realistic, Zinet incorporated features of her own children into the characters.
Zinet credits her husband for helping her balance writing, working full-time, raising her kids and studying for grad school.
“I have the support of my husband. It helps. It makes things easier,” she said.
Awareness is key
The book addresses misconceptions about why the hijab is worn through the lens of Iman, an elementary school student. One passage reads “maybe she’s bald or maybe her hair has some dirt in it and that’s why it’s covered.” As readers turn the pages, they learn the real meaning of the hijab.
“Hijab is an Arabic word that means to cover. It’s worn for purposes of modesty. It’s meant to cover the hair and neck,” Zinet said.
She also included a glossary in the back of her book to build awareness about Muslim customs.
Within days of publication, Proud in Her Hijab became an Amazon No. 1 bestseller in the categories of diversity and inclusion (Not bad for a first-time author!). And Zinet’s not done yet. She’s currently looking to grow her writing experience through a second children’s book set to be released later this year.
“All of the first experiences are going to be instrumental to make me a better author,” she said.