By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
Celebrating Inspiring South Asian women: South Asian author, mother gives kids and parents a new way to share diverse stories and the meaning of Ramadan
He’s the little monkey we grew up giggling over, as our moms read us his stories before tucking us into bed. Generations before us loved his adventures through parks, homes, journeys and fire stations. His name was Curious George. But what if this beloved animal could help kids and parents be empowered about culture?
Muslim Author and mother of two, Hena Khan, took this question to heart and is helping Curious George teach kids about Ramadan in her latest book, It’s Ramadan, Curious George, which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. This book is part of a growing trend in children’s publishing to reach a more diverse audience.
Khan, who grew up loving Curious George, says the idea of telling this particular story came directly from her publisher.
“I was excited to hear that they were interested in having Curious George celebrate Ramadan and that they asked me to write the book.”
She says that much of the negative discourse we’ve been seeing around perceptions of Muslims stem from a lack of information or even misinformation.
Studies show that more than half of Americans say that they haven’t ever met a Muslim. This gives people a chance to get to know a Muslim family through its interaction with a beloved icon.
“And I hope that it will in some small way foster tolerance and inclusion of American Muslims and drive home the point that we are as American as anyone else.”
Diversity in books are picking up steam as of late and more and more parents are looking for diverse books to complement their growing libraries at home and in the classroom. Hena, who has also written two other picture books introducing Muslims and Islam to American children, is hoping to close this gap.
Khan adds there were some important considerations she had in mind when writing a book about Ramadan when it came to both the story and illustrations, especially for young readers.
“I wanted to the book to focus on the aspects of Ramadan that are fun from the perspective of a child, like gifts, and treats, and play, while touching on the important themes like fasting, iftaar, prayer, charity, sighting the moon, and Eid prayer,” said Khan. “I also wanted the illustrations to represent Muslims from all ethnic backgrounds and races, and think they were very nicely done.”
Khan says the simplicity of the book makes it easily accessible to anyone and people of all ages.
“A book like this is important for many reasons. It gives Muslim children a chance to identify with a Curious George story that directly relates to them,” said Khan. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see themselves in the literature and to feel included. The book also serves to educate people about Muslims and our traditions and culture in an entertaining way.”
It reinforces the idea that Muslims are part of the fabric of American society, and that we share the same values as all Americans—family, community, and charity.
With such a polarized nation as the US when it comes to religious values and race, is she worried about a backlash against this book?
You can order Hena’s book at : amazon.ca
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