Monday, June 6, 2016

Q&A with Hena Khan

Hena Khan is the author of the new children's board book It's Ramadan, Curious George. Her other books include Night of the Moon and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Q: How did you and your publisher come up with the idea for this new Curious George book?

A: All credit goes to the editorial team at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this one! They approached me with the idea to have Curious George celebrate Ramadan.

The book is part of a series in which George celebrates Christmas, Hannukah, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and Parade Day. The editor told me thought it was high time Curious George celebrated Ramadan, and I not only agreed, but was thrilled they asked me to write the book!

Q: Were you a fan of Curious George before working on the book, and how did you approach the idea of writing about an established fictional character?

A: I’ve been a huge fan of Curious George since I was a child, and grew up reading his classics. My kids love him too, and we’ve read his old and new books together for years. In my younger son’s bedroom there are still Curious George prints hanging on the wall.

I was honored to be able to write such an established and beloved character and to be able to be a small part of his incredible legacy.

Q: Did you undertake much research for the book?

A: I reviewed the books in the series, and Curious George books, but other than that, not too much. It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a board book and written in verse, so it is a departure from the classic style.

I tried to include some classic George elements, like him getting in to a little mischief that leads to a positive outcome. He tries to add people’s shoes to the charity baskets at the mosque, which prompts the idea of a clothes drive.

The experiences in the book, like breaking fast, spotting the moon, and the Eid celebration are all drawn from my own life and are fairly representative.

Q: This book is being published in a climate featuring much discussion and many controversial comments about Islam. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

A: I think Curious George having Muslim friends and being respectful and sharing in their traditions is a wonderful, positive alternative to the hateful rhetoric and disturbing statements being made today.

I hope readers take away the notion that American Muslims share the same values as their fellow Americans, including a love for family, a strong sense of community, a commitment to charity, and respect for diversity. We are ourselves a very diverse community, and we make up an important segment of this country that we all love.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m very excited to have a middle grade novel coming out with Salaam Reads next spring called Amina’s Voice, and we just need to wrap that up. I’m also working on another novel and a couple picture books. My follow up to Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns is going to be a shape concept book and will be out with Chronicle Books in early 2018.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: We all know that ignorance can breed fear, and the current climate toward Muslims is alarming. However, there are many wonderful allies out there who are advocating awareness, tolerance and understanding, especially the community of people who are passionate about kids’ books.

I was so humbled and touched when authors I know reached out to me offer support after first hearing anti-Muslim speech being thrown around by candidates. One author friend told me she was donating my books to her children’s schools which moved me to tears.

I’ve been doing school visits and interviews, and the media has been very interested in the Curious George book and the huge reaction to it.

This is an important time to get Muslim voices out there to counter the negative narrative being spread, so a huge thank you to all of you who are giving me the opportunity to be one of them.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Hena Khan, please click here.

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