New Philly Children’s Book ‘Mommy’s Khimar’ Blends Sweetness and Tradition
This vibrant new book lovingly portrays a Muslim American family, the universality of playing dress-up, and celebrating differences.
“When I put on Mommy’s khimar, I become a queen with a golden train.”
Like so many of us, I have fond memories of sneaking into my mom’s room as a little girl and stumbling around in her too-big heels, pretending to be a glamorous grownup. I’ve glimpsed my little one doing the same with my “fancy” things. It is a universal practice in pretend play and admiration.
So it is such a lovely choice on the part of author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow to craft a story about a little girl dressing up in her mother’s headscarves as a way to celebrate the larger themes of diversity, representation, and love between a mother and daughter. In Mommy’s Khimar, the main character is a young girl who tells the readers about her mother’s colorful collection of khimars, and imagines herself as different fantastical figures as she tries them on—she is a superhero, a bird, a queen!
But on a deeper level, the khimar connects the little girl to her mother. She smells the coconut oil from her hair and the cocoa butter from her skin, and she is able to feel her love even if she is away. The khimar also connects her to her community, as the old women at her mosque smile at her when they see her wear it. It differentiates her from others as well, as the story reveals that her grandmother goes to church instead, and does not wear the scarf. “We are a family and we love each other just the same,” the book tells us matter-of-factly.
Thompkins-Bigelow uses a beautiful and relatable story to express these larger themes, and the joyful illustrations by Ebony Glenn are irresistible and evocative. The strength in their storytelling is that the book works both as a subtle introduction for those readers who may be unfamiliar with Muslim custom, but also just a sweet story about love and make-believe for readers already immersed in the culture.
For the latter group, Mommy’s Khimar also offers a new opportunity to see characters in a book that actually look and live like they do, which can be so valuable for children in underrepresented populations.
Mommy’s Khimar is the first book by Thompkins-Bigelow, who currently serves as a program director and instructor at Mighty Writers, a Philadelphia nonprofit that runs free after-school programs to teach kids writing skills to help them achieve in academics and beyond. The program has locations throughout the city, and empowers over 2500 Philly kids each year to write with clarity and express themselves.
Photograph courtesy of Shore Fire Media. Cover artwork by Ebony Glenn.