Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences
Does My Head Look Big in This?
by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Book Summary

Amal is a sixteen-year-old girl with concerns about friends, family rules, and interest in a cute boy at school. She is also making a decision to wear the hijab full time, including to school. She knows it will attract some attention and judgment, but she also reflects about it as a decision that is personal and about her faith. She knows it's going to take some fortitude to be different in a crowd of uniform-wearing private school students.
Does My Head Look Big in This? book cover
Does My Head Look Big in This?

Book Review

I'm glad to see diverse characters in middle grade / YA fiction, and the protagonist is easily accessible to Western audiences - and, as it's set in Australia and not the U.S. - that's an extra diversity bonus.

It has a few nice small moments, but it's at least 200 pages longer than it needs to be. The references are dated (publication in 2005), but even if you get past them, the dialogue is not especially insightful or humorous, even though characters are frequently doubled over laughing at their own fairly banal jokes that any ordinary person could hear at the mall.

Some of the language in the book puts it out of range of upper elementary students, too, even though in terms of sophistication and maturity, it's probably a match for 5th grade.

Although it addresses issues of personal identity vs. conformity, prejudice, blindness, and the power of tradition, the observations about these issues are all told, not shown. There is conversation after conversation, interspersed with internal dialogue, without very much action. It's unusable as a book discussion group in a school, because there is no place to make an inference about anything - everything is stated directly and repeated through various iterations of the same conflict. This book could have used tighter editing, as multiple scenes and characters were completely unnecessary.

Overall, I think the intention of creating this character with this problem was a good one. I wish the execution had had more depth.

Topics and Themes for this book:

  • Expressing Faith, Even if it is Different from Faiths of Those Around You; Wearing the Hijab in an Australian Private School
  • Finding Your Voice; Self-Confidence
  • Judging Others Based on Appearance

Discussion Questions for this book:

The best discussion questions, of course, are generated by and contemplated by readers. These questions are designed to avoid major spoilers about the book, and to provide a starting point for teachers, parents, and student reading groups.

1) Which reactions to Amal's decision to wear the hijab full time seemed most striking to you? Did you find any of the reactions to be surprisingly supportive or offensive? Why?

2) If you were advising Amal to either make this decision, or advising her about how to handle other reactions, what would you encourage her to keep doing, or to do differently, and why?

3) What other books or experiences connect to Amal's main problem in this book?

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