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A Yearful Of Books

Feb/11/2024 / by brian-sodoma

Award-winning children’s book author Hena Khan has big plans for 2024

South Asian woman with long curly hair sitting on an armchair with books in background
Photo Credit: Havar Espedal

With five books scheduled for release in 2024, Hena Khan has a busy year ahead. A love for sharing her Pakistani heritage still drives the award-winning children’s book author who this month is releasing “Drawing Deena”, about a Pakistani middle school artist determined to manage her anxiety and carve out her creative path. An anthology of South Asian authors’ works, “The Door is Open”, edited by Khan, comes in April.

“Overseeing an anthology was something completely new to me, and I’m so excited about this amazing roster of talent that celebrates the diversity of the South Asian community,” Khan said in an interview to SEEMA.

Khan has three other works on deck – one about the world’s oldest library, and a graphic novel sharing the story of an all-girls hijab-wearing basketball team. Her third work is as co-author of “Best Wishes #4: Like a Boss”, the fourth installment of Sarah Mlynowski’s “New York Times” bestselling series about a magical wish-granting bracelet. She recently spoke with SEEMA about her early life, the year ahead, and goals for the future.

Sharing Pakistani Culture With The World

Khan grew up in Maryland, the second oldest of four children to Pakistani immigrant parents. She still calls Maryland home today. In fact, she lives just a couple miles from her childhood house. The author’s early years were shaped by a love of reading, nurtured by her mother, who made regular trips to the local public library with her children. Khan fell in love with authors like Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. She did, however, notice one thing missing in the stories she loved – characters who shared her life and cultural experiences.

“I had that child of immigrants’ experience where I didn’t always know exactly where I fit in. I didn’t always feel American enough and certainly didn’t feel Pakistani enough at times, and I wasn’t sure how much I could share about my home and family life,” she recalled. “I never was sure how much I could tell my peers. I didn’t feel comfortable or that people were even interested in knowing about my background. I grew up in the 1980s and people weren’t familiar with Pakistan and they weren’t familiar with the word Muslim, or even Ramadan, growing up.”

As a child, Khan dabbled in writing. She would develop short stories, plays and occasionally write a family newspaper that covered news in her home. “I gravitated toward writing for fun. I never thought it would lead me to being published,” she added.

A Childhood Friend Needs A Favor

In college, Khan studied government, politics, and international affairs, and after graduation worked in the communications department of a healthcare nonprofit. She wrote technical pieces and enjoyed the work.

In 2002, when she was pregnant with her first child, a high school friend who was an editor for Scholastic Book Clubs called needing help with creating Book of the Month content. The side gig eventually led to more work with the company. It was at this time that she was “hooked” by the idea of writing children’s books. In 2006, she proposed her first book “Night of the Moon”, a Ramadan story that follows a Pakistani seven-year-old girl Yasmeen, as she observes the various stages of the moon during the holiday. The book was published in 2008. “I feel this was a very gradual realization, realizing as a child that I didn’t see myself in these stories, this experience with Scholastic Book Clubs, then it made me hungry for more. I was a young mother too, and I thought about the representation I didn’t have as a kid. I wanted it to be different for my children,” she added.

Addressing A Wide Range Of Themes

Khan says she tries to avoid being preachy about culture in her work. Her main character may be Pakistani, but she often tackles themes a wide range of audiences can relate to. Some of her most popular books “Amina’s Voice”, “Amina’s Song” and her Zara series all deal with overcoming self-doubt, and peer and family relationships.

“I think all my characters do pull from my life, my children and extended family, but it’s also what I’m thinking about right now,” she explained. “A lot of the things we struggle with as people don’t stop as we grow up. That’s why a lot of my stories center around friendships, family, dealing with change, big things all of us grapple with.”

Khan is grateful for having the opportunity to dabble in many formats, from books to pick-your-adventure formats, and now an anthology and graphic novel.

“I do feel free, and it’s amazing to be able to tell the stories I want to tell,” she said. “As far as the future is concerned, I just hope I can continue to tell stories I’m excited about.”

Seema

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