by Rob Kelly || Features
There’s no debate, life is full of challenges! From finding friends to play with in the school yard to rolling out of bed on a wintery Monday morning, life challenges us in many ways.
From battling illnesses to deciding on a restaurant to eat at on a Saturday night, challenges vary depending upon a person’s life experiences; upon physical and mental capability and upon differentiated motivation. They can alter with the wind and sometimes what was thought too big to achieve can be accomplished and vice versa.
No-one understands this better than Australian author and writer extraordinaire Hazel Edwards (OAM). With over two hundred books to her name, including the classic children’s book There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake and an Order of Australia medal around her neck, Hazel Edwards’ is known for her persistence and self-determination as a person and writer.
In September 2018, Edwards’ self-published and co-written book ‘Hijabi Girl’ had its world premiere performance by students at Watsonia Heights Primary School. The story is about an eight year old girl named Melek who solves everyday challenges and problems with her friends and family. The book has been very well-received and Edwards’ couldn’t be prouder of it.
However, if it wasn’t for Edwards’ persistence and determination, the book may never have been published.
“We had forty-one rejections from traditional publishers who seemed concerned every time there were news items mentioning Muslims or terrorism. They claimed to support ‘diversity’, but were acutely aware of commercial realities. So, we changed the title to ‘Hijabi Girl’ to be even more direct.”
Once the traditional publishing companies decided not to publish the book, a determined Edwards decided that self-publishing was the only way to go.
“We wanted Muslim students to read the book and be reassured that there were characters like them in books. All children deserve that reassurance.”
Like all good stories, ‘Hijabi Girl’ had an interesting beginning. Edwards was inspired to write the book when she met librarian Ozge Alkan (who is credited as a co-author) at a librarians’ conference. As a There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake fan, Alkan spoke to Edwards about her love of books and requested Edwards write a ‘fun’ story of a girl in a hijab.
Aware of the many cultural sensitivities and challenges that came with writing such a story, Edwards suggested Alkan write it instead. But after further discussions, the two new friends decided to co-write the book together.
“A wonderful research period followed where we visited the Immigration Museum and Ozge explained modesty and clothing customs.”
Bringing illustrator Serena Geddes into the picture (pun intended) was another big win for Edwards and Alkan.
“Serena Geddes’ illustrations are vital, especially the cover, with culturally appropriate length on our hijabi girl character’s skirt.”
Initially published in 2016, Hijabi Girl is now in its fourth reprint and is being read and enjoyed by students of all ages and backgrounds.
“The story even had a television option which unfortunately fell through, but there’s an audio recording from Vision Australia Studio. And the fan mail has been inspiring.”
Most recently though the book enjoyed a world premiere script adaptation by Watsonia Heights Primary students and their teacher Kathryne Radcliffe. It was described by Edwards as “…a joyous occasion.”
“Educationally, audiences, parents, cast and staff were on a fast learning curve with the pleasure of working together. Their school did not have any girls in hijabs, but they were willing to discuss differences.”
So, why does Edwards believe the story is an important one to tell and what does she hope readers will take away from it?
“Once you have an understanding of another’s customs, there is no need to fear the unknown.”
This article began by defining different types of challenges. Perhaps then, we should take a leaf (or page) out of Edwards and Alkan’s book and Melek’s story. No matter the challenge in life – no matter it’s size or complexity – persistence and self-determination can solve it.
You can find ‘Hijabi Girl’ (with additional resources and content) on Amazon (Kindle), iTunes, Kobe, the Book Depository or online at Hazel Edwards’ website: https://www.hazeledwards.com/hijabi_girl.html