Thursday, July 12, 2012

An author visit with Hena Khan!

This week I spoke with  author Hena Khan, who recently released Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors. Like her first picture book, Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, this is a lovely, luminous book to share with children. Muslim children will be thrilled to see aspects of their lives and culture reflected in the stories, and non-Muslim children will both learn something new and be able to identify with universal themes of family togetherness and celebration. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hena! She's also written two Worst-Case Scenario adventure books - filled with excitement for middle grade readers!

How did to come to write books about Islam for kids?

Several years ago, when my older son was a toddler, I was discouraged by a lack of children’s books that represented Islamic faith and culture in an appealing way. Many of the books that were available then were overly didactic, or presented Muslim culture as something ancient or foreign. I wanted to write books that would be fun to read and beautiful to look at and portray American Muslims as I know them—diverse people who share the universal values of family, community, and charity, and who enjoy festive and fun-filled holidays. 

So are your books meant for a multicultural audience?

Definitely! I wanted books that my kids could both identify with and share with their friends and teachers. I tried to add extra value beyond the multicultural aspect for parents and educators. Night of the Moon introduces the lunar calendar and the moon cycle in addition to describing the holidays of Ramadan and Eid. A lot of parents tell me that after reading the book their kids look for the changing shape of the moon at night, which I love to imagine. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, which was just released in June, explores colors and simple Islamic themes for a young audience.

Do you find people are curious to learn about your faith and culture?

Growing up in Maryland, I always found friends, neighbors, and teachers to be interested in my family’s traditions, even though many had never heard of Ramadan, Eid, or even Pakistan, the country of my heritage. Today, with increased awareness, and sadly, increased misconception about Islam, there is a heightened curiosity about who American Muslims are. It’s been enormously gratifying to have adults tell me that they learned something from my books, like a teacher who told me that she never really understood what Ramadan was until she read “Night of the Moon.” I’ve found that educators in general are super encouraging, and interested in being inclusive and representing all their students. They just need the tools to help them do that.

Do you do school visits? 

Yes, and they are one of the best parts about being an author! The kids are always so enthusiastic and treat me like a rock star. And they always ask the best questions. I’m happy to do in person or Skype visits any time.

Can you recommend other good picture books about Islam and Muslims?

Over the years I’ve seen an increase in Islamic literature for kids, both stories and instructional books, published by mainstream publishers. Maha Addasi and Asma Mobin-Uddin have put out nice fiction picture books. There are a few great reference picture books out, and some wonderful middle grade literature like Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, but there’s definitely room for more.

With Ramadan around the corner, what do you have planned?

It’s going to be a busy month of fasting and feasting with family and friends, and the longest and hottest Ramadan that we’ve experienced in many years (since Ramadan moves 11 days earlier in the calendar each year). My older son, who is now 11 years old, observed most of the fasts last year and really wants to keep all of them this Ramadan. We’ll make sure we plan for lots of indoor activities and hopefully spend time plenty of time reading, and, in my case, writing!


N.H. Senzai said...

Wonderful Interview! Hena's new book is absolutely a visual masterpiece! My son loves it, as it not only teaches him about colors, but also is an insight into Muslim culture.

Of course I'm biased :)

N.H. Senzai said...

Wonderful Interview! Hena's new book is absolutely a visual masterpiece! My son loves it, as it not only teaches him about colors, but also is an insight into Muslim culture.

Of course I'm biased :)

Laura Simeon said...

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I felt so lucky that Hena took the time to talk with me about her wonderful books!