Does My Head Look Big in This?
By Randa Abdel-Fattah
Cover image retrieved November 25, 2012 from
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This?. New York: Orchard Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0439922333
Amal Abdel-Hakim is a typical teenage girl, concerned with fashion, fitting in, friends, and finding her place in the world. Palestinian Muslim, living in Australia, she attends a high school where fitting in is a full-time job. Amal, inspired by an episode of Friends, decides to take a stand for her heritage and family faither and begin wearing a traditional hijab, a scarf worn over the head when in the presence of males who are not close family members. She encounters the expected prejudices, especially considering the time setting of 2002, soon after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks that gave all Muslims the brand of terrorist. Amal has the support of her family, close friends of all faiths, and enough of the school population to continue with her experiment in representing her heritage, while still being a part of the modern world.
Does My Head Look Big in This is, in many ways, two stories in one: a tale of teenage angst and survival, and the story of the intermingling of cultures in a society that is only partially accepting of varied beliefs. Cultural markers abound throughout the book, with the most obvious being the subject of the title of the book: wearing a traditional hijab scarf. Amal’s decision to wear the hijab has mixed motivations. She wants to honor her heritage, yet at the same time she is not entirely opposed to the attention she receives. Amal turns her hijab into a fashion statement, coordinating it with her wardrobe, yet she does seek to honor her faith by finding a private location for daily prayers. Other references to clothing abound. She likes the fact that her hijab draws attention away from matters such as modesty and not exposing too much cleavage or skin. One of her best friends deals with weight issues, and Amal observes that beauty does not come from size, but from the kind of person one is. She feels confident that her decision to embrace this symbol of her faith and culture is a good one, and that in the end her inner beauty will be more evident than her clothing choices.
Use of language is another cultural marker apparent in this novel. Names are clearly cultural, with Amal telling the reader that her mother’s name, Jamila, means beautiful in Arabic. Amal points out multiculturalism through names, as she describes the street she recently moved from by the last names of her neighbors: the Chongs, the Papadopopoulouses, the Wilsons, the Slaviks, and the Xiangs. Names figure heavily into the identification of ethnicity.
Food and observed customs reflect the culture of Amal and her family. While discussing her mother’s healthy food obsession, she says that in elementary school she was forced to take oil-free tabouleh in her lunchbox. The fashion of various cultures is detailed, as examples of how Amal and her friends’ families are different in traditional dress, but similar in their woes of being stylish in a confusing, ever-changing world.
Religion is one of the foundations of this novel, and our narrator does an excellent job of explaining the similarities and differences between major religions. The reader gains factual knowledge, sees the relationships between religions, and observes how religion is an important thread in the fabric of most cultures. Does My Head Look Big in This? is a fun, light-hearted read that will have the reader laughing, empathizing, and learning. Young adult readers will find there is a great deal more to this realistic fiction than just an enjoyable tale.
Best Books Lists/Awards
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008 ; Bank Street College of Education; New Beginnings: Life in a New Land; United States
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2008 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
Booklist Book Review Stars , Jul. 1, 2007 ; American Library Association; United States
Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth, 2007 ; Booklist; United States
Booklist Top 10 Religious Books for Youth, 2007 ; Booklist; United States
Capitol Choices, 2008 ; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States
Children's Book Sense Picks , Summer 2007 ; American Booksellers Association; United States
Kirkus Best Young Adult Books, 2007 ; Kirkus; United States
Kirkus Book Review Stars, April 15, 2007 ; United States
Middle and Junior High Schoool Library Catalog, Ninth Edition Supplement 2008, 2008 ; H.W. Wilson Company; United States
State and Provincial Reading Lists:
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award, 2010 ; Nominee; Illinois
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2009 ; Nominee; High School; Maryland
Young Adult Book Award, 2008 ; Nominee; Pennsylvania
Young Reader's Choice Award, 2010 ; Nominee; Senior; United States
Hazel Rochman (Booklist, Jul. 1, 2007 (Vol. 103, No. 21))
Starred Review* Like the author of this breakthrough debut novel, Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian “whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen’s conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere.
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2007 (Vol. 75, No. 8))
An "Australian-Muslin-Palestinian" teen opts to wear the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, full-time, embarking on a courageous exercise in self-understanding. Wearing the hijab full-time shuts some doors, but opens others for Amal as she emerges a bright, articulate heroine true to herself and her faith.
Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, May 2007 (Vol. 41, No. 3))
We have been waiting for just such a book as this in YA literature! Abdel-Fattah is a Muslim, an Egyptian-Palestinian-Australian who lives in Sydney. Her narrator is Amal, a smart junior in prep school, whose parents are professionals and who is heading in that direction herself. What’s so good about the story is just how easy it is for non-Muslim readers to relate to Amal; and I’m sure Muslim readers will snap this one up since they rarely see themselves portrayed in YA literature. Fun and just what we need in the way of diversity.
· Students will imagine that they have been dropped off in a country where they do not speak the language, know much about the customs, or know anyone there. How will you survive? What will you need to do first? What tools and/or skills would be helpful in this situation? Students will compose an expository text, explaining how to survive such an experience.
· Students will read non-fiction text to find our more about Muslim heritage, such as A Companion to Muslim edited by Amyn B. Sajoo at http://us.macmillan.com/acompaniontomuslimcultures/AmynBSajoo or 1001 Inventions by Salim T.S. Al-Hassaini at http://www.1001inventions.com ,
· Explore Randa Abdel-Fattah’s website at http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/index.asp for more books by this author and for Teacher’s Notes to go with this novel.
· Amal’s family made a big move from Palestine to Australia before she was born. Students will put themselves in that scenario, imagining what it would be like to make such a major move. Students will locate Palestine on a world map. Using the map scale, students will calculate the distance between Palestine and their hometown. Students will write procedural text detailing the steps to travel between their home and Palestine. There will be several variations of acceptable modes of travel. Students could use online resources to devise an actual travel itinerary, such as the train, bus, car, boat, and/or plane travel and estimated time to make the journey.
· Students will research the tradition of wearing a hijab at http://www.tebyan.net/newindex.aspx?pid=65911 or http://civicdilemmas.facinghistory.org/content/brief-history-veil-islam. Students will create a flow chart that shows the history of the hijab.
· Students will research to find out about the currencies of Palestine and Australia. Students will find out the exchange rate for the various coins/currency units and create a table that shows the conversion of common currency units from Palestine and Australia to US money.
· Learn more about traditional Islamic art by viewing and discussing examples and history at http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/islam/art/ and http://britton.disted.camosun.bc.ca/Islamic_Art_and_Geometric_Design.pdf Students will create their own Islamic art mosaic design to display in the classroom.
Other Books by Randa Abdel-Fattah