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Amina Returns! A Q&A with Hena Khan About AMINA’S SONG

Charm. You can’t teach it. Possibly you can learn it, though it would take some doing. A middle grade author that can charm readers a leg up over the competition. And when AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Khan was released back in 2017, it had oodles of the stuff.

Today, I am pleased to announce, is the publication day of a new sequel by Hena Khan called AMINA’S SONG. The plot, you wonder? I thought you’d never ask:

It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family; all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale.

After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?

I had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Khan about the book and, as you can probably tell, I took it.

Betsy Bird: Thank you so much for joining me here today! First and foremost, how are you and your family holding up during the pandemic right now?

Hena Khan: Thank you for having me! We are managing okay and trying to stay positive and patient. And it’s truly inspiring and humbling to see how hard everyone is working so hard to make sure kids are still reading, getting access to books, and creating opportunities to connect us in spite of all the challenges.

BB: I think it’s safe to say that a lot of kids are going to be cheering in the aisles (so to speak) when they hear that Amina is back. Did you always intend to give her a sequel or was this just something that occurred naturally?

Amina’s Song

HK: A bit of both! When I first wrote Amina’s Voice, I dreamt of there being a sequel. I even teased it in my query letters, saying that perhaps a follow-up book could include her visiting Pakistan. But I hadn’t really thought much further about how she would develop or what that trip would mean to her. When I sat down to write the book, I was so happy to be back in Amina’s world! And I was able to incorporate feedback from readers, who offered such incredible feedback and suggestions about what they were curious to know more about or wanted to see in a future book.

BB: When kids write to you about Amina, what do they tend to say? What are the letters that have meant the most to you?

HK: It always amazes me when kids from all types of backgrounds tell me how much they relate to Amina and her story. They often share personal ways in which they have shared similar feelings or experiences, which is so touching. The letters that mean the most to me are the ones in which kids say that reading about Amina has helped them to feel more confident, or proud of who they are, or inspired to use their own voices. All of their letters keep me going, and remind me of who this is ultimately for, and I absolutely love hearing from readers!

BB: Who are some of your own favorite Muslim children’s authors and illustrators working today? Is there anyone you’d love to work with?

HK: It’s wonderful to see more Muslim children’s authors and illustrators adding their talents to the children’s publishing industry today, and much less lonely for those of us who’ve been doing it for a long time! I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible artists like Hatem Aly, Aaliya Jaleel, and to contribute to an anthology edited by the talented SK Ali and Aisha Saeed. I’m big fans of all of them, along with Jasmine Warga, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Sabaa Tahir, NH Senzai and so many more! And I’m excited about more new voices and new collaborations in the future!

BB: I think “Hena Khan” and I think “range”. Seriously, one minute you’re doing middle grade novels, then the next you’re doing different kinds of picture books. What else might you have up your sleeve? Board books? YA? Graphic novels, perhaps?

Hena Khan

HK: Oh, thank you! I love writing different types of books, to both reach different types of readers, and to keep challenging myself. I do have some exciting book news to share, including a choose-your-path series called SuperYOU that I’m coauthoring with my lifelong friend and amazing writer Andrea Menotti and, yes, a graphic novel that hasn’t been announced yet! Please stay tuned for more details!

BB: While there have been some incremental increases in the number of books by and about Muslims for kids, what would you like to see more of? What would you like to see change?

HK: I’d love to see more of everything! Compared to what existed twenty years ago, it’s very encouraging that there are these incremental increases, but it’s still just a drop in the bucket. Muslims make up a quarter of the global population and we need to see far more of that diversity reflected in the literature. We need more stories that celebrate the vastly varied American Muslim experience, from countless communities and perspectives. As far as what I’d like to see change, I’d love to see more stories where being Muslim isn’t a struggle to overcome, or a lesson to be explained, where kids get to be centered in stories about all the regular joys and struggles of growing up. And I’d love to see publishers have several Muslims authors of different backgrounds on their lists.

BB: Finally, what are you working on next?

HK: I’m so excited to be working on a companion series to the Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream series, featuring his sister Zara! These books have been a blast to write since I adore the Saleem family and all their colorful personalities! The series is very neighborhood and family centered, and filled with silly antics and friendship, much like the books I loved most as a child. I can’t wait for kids to read them!

BB: Kids, heck. I want to read them! Thanks so much for joining us today.

Again, many thanks to Hena for so patiently answering my questions, and to Shivani Annirood and the folks at Simon & Schuster for setting this up. AMINA’S SONG is available for purchase starting today.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.