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Children's Nonfiction Women

Lion on the Inside

How One Girl Changed Basketball

by (author) Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir & Judith Henderson

illustrated by Katherine Ahmed

Kids Can Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Women, Islam, Prejudice & Racism, Basketball
Recommended Age
5 to 8
Recommended Grade
k to 3
Recommended Reading age
5 to 8
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


A Muslim American girl at the top of her game makes a difficult choice in this powerful and beautifully told true story about breaking barriers.

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir was born to play basketball. At three, she has her own hoop. By seventeen, she's the star player on her school's varsity team. On the day of the playoffs, though, the referee says she can't play while wearing her hijab. Her teammates refuse to play, the crowd shouts its support and the referee relents. With that game, Bilqis becomes the all-time lead scorer in Massachusetts State history and goes on to play college ball, where she is the first woman to play in a hijab in the NCAA - she even plays basketball with President Obama at the White House!

The story follows Bilqis into adulthood and her heartbreaking decision to walk away from a professional basketball career when the rules once again won't allow her to wear a hijab. Bilqis becomes an activist, fighting for years on the international stage advocating for young Muslim women, and eventually the rule is overturned. Written in free verse in a voice that captures the cadence of the game, this picture book biography, coauthored by Bilqis and award-winning writer Judith Henderson, is both a love poem to the sport of basketball and an inspiring story about how one person can effect change. Richly colored illustrations by Katherine Ahmed add further emotional depth to the story.

This book will spark discussions about respect, beliefs, values, culture and discrimination. Back matter includes biographical information, photos and a list of sources for further exploration. Lion on the Inside is the first book in the CitizenKid collection that is geared to younger readers ages 5 to 8.

About the authors

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir first picked up a basketball at the age of three, and she's been playing ever since. Living in a practicing-Muslim household, as she grew older, Bilqis followed her religious beliefs. She began wearing a hijab, a traditional head covering for Muslim women, and practiced modesty on the court by covering all skin except her hands.Bilqis had a very successful high school career, scoring over 3000 points and breaking both men's and women's scoring records in Massachusetts --- a record that was formerly held by Olympic Gold Medalist and 1999 WNBA All-Star, Rebecca Lobo. Bilqis played college basketball at the University of Memphis for four years, from 2009 to 2013, and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in exercise science. Her goal was to continue playing professionally in Europe, but the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) rule prohibiting headgear larger than five inches ended that dream. Unwilling to play without her hijab, Bilqis chose faith over basketball and became an advocate. Working alongside other Muslim players, Bilqis raised her voice for the next generation and effectively forced FIBA to lift the ban. Bilqis now works to pave the way for other Muslim women in sports. Her efforts include “Muslim Girls Hoop Too” --- an online campaign to raise awareness for Muslim women in sports, with an emphasis on female basketball players. Bilqis lives in Memphis, Tennessee, with her family. Lion on the Inside is her story.

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir's profile page

Judith Henderson does a lot of stuff. She is an author, an Emmy Award-winning composer, and wrote the theme song for the PBS show, Arthur. She is a TV producer, and she also illustrates. Judith's three-book series Big Words Small Stories is now airing as an animated series. Her other books include Dee and Apostrofee, AAAlligator! and This Is a Dog Book! Judith has several new books which will be published in 2023 and2024, including Willa and Wade the series and Lion on the Inside. Judith lives in Montreal, Quebec.

Judith Henderson's profile page

Katherine Ahmed was born and raised in New York and converted to the Muslim faith as a teenager. She attended an arts high school in Florida and earned a BA at The New School. Before launching her career as an illustrator, Katherine was the manager of a multicultural Muslim Sunday School in New York City. In 2021, she was awarded the We Need Diverse Books illustration mentorship. Katherine was a contributing illustrator to The Reading Adventure and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers, and has had her work published in Cricket magazine. Lion on the Inside is her first picture book. Katherine lives in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters.

Katherine Ahmed's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Stirring and impactful.

Kirkus Reviews

Other titles by Judith Henderson