Chef Nadiya Hussain Is Teaching Kids To Be Strong in New Children's Book

In her new picture book, Today I'm Strong, The Great British Bake Off winner tackles bullying and finding inner strength.

Nadiya Hussain
Photo: Getty Images | Isabel Infantes - PA Images

It's sometimes wild to think that when I was growing up, I thought the oven was only used for storage. It wasn't until I was in secondary school and in my home economics class that I realized that the oven can actually be used to create something wonderful. I thought it was magical, but still I never thought then that baking would become my career. Even once I was married and I started baking properly (because my husband loves cake!), I didn't know that I would be a baker. I just practiced something I enjoyed and then, as the kids came along, I practiced even more. I didn't know it would lead my husband to enter me into the biggest baking show on TV, The Great British Bake Off—I definitely didn't know that I would go on to win it! And here I am, in my dream job doing what I love. But all that media attention and spotlight comes with its challenges. And it's my experience with this that led me to write children's picture books.

Writing is one of my very first loves—it's the way I express myself and it's something I've always loved doing. When I was about 7, I wrote a poem that won a writing competition and that was it, I got really into reading and writing in a big way and I've been doing it ever since.

I wrote my first children's picture book, My Monster and Me (published in 2020), to talk about worry and anxiety with young children, partly in response to how I was feeling after my experience on The Great British Bake Off. I have always thought of my worry as a monster—and that's how I chose to explore this emotion in this book. As the child's worry grows, so does his monster, until it feels like it will never go away, and he'll never be able to live without it. But he soon learns that talking to someone will help his worry get smaller and that by opening up, it can become more manageable. Worry isn't something that goes away completely, but it can be contained. And that is how I wanted to explore this feeling in this book.

I am a very open person and keen to share my experiences wherever I can to help others deal with difficult emotions or situations, especially with young children who are still learning the language needed to express these complicated feelings. After sharing my experiences about worry in this way, I wanted to write about more emotions and situations I have struggled with. And this is how I came to write Today I'm Strong—my second picture book.

When I was in primary and secondary school, I was bullied. It was really horrible and a real challenge for me. Sadly, I didn't feel I could confide in my parents, as they were already dealing with my brother and sister who were doing very poorly and had to be in hospital a lot. So, I kept it to myself. I wanted to take the pain away. When I was 10, I found out that I was going to have a little brother. That gave me strength. I'm not always strong, but it gave me strength to know I had something to fight and live for. And I wanted to write this book to let children know that they must speak up, they must confide, and in doing so can find their inner strength.

Today I'm Strong follows the story of a little girl who usually loves to go to school. Most days, school is great, and she gets to play with her friends. But some days, the schoolyard feels like a battleground, where she must dodge mean words from a bully. Luckily, this little girl has her tiger companion by her side—even if she's the only one who can see it, she knows it's there. With the help of her tiger, she digs deep to find her inner strength so that she can stand up for herself.

I loved the idea of this little girl's strength being shown as a tiger. Tigers are big, fierce animals that can evoke fear but who also have a lovable, playful side. Also, while it is important that children speak up and talk to an adult when they are being bullied, or when they see bullying happen, having the courage to do this takes a lot of inner strength. And I wanted to focus this story on finding that inner strength so that children know they have the power to take a deep breath, be kind to themselves and march up to the person who is hurting them and tell them, "No, you will not do this to me anymore." This strength comes from inside and I hope this story helps children see that. It's something that took me a long time to learn, but that I hope to teach my own kids and other children like them.

As with in My Monster and Me, I partnered up with the wonderful Ella Bailey to bring this story to life. Her illustrations are bright and friendly and she's captured the playful yet ferocious personality of strength beautifully in the tiger she has created. I hope children enjoy this book and that it teaches them that being kind to ourselves and to others is our biggest strength of all.

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