By Megan Smith –
Curious George is back, only this time he’s helping his friend Kareem make it through his first fast, instead of getting himself wrapped up in his usual mischief.
In “It’s Ramadan, Curious George,” Curious George and his new friend Kareem enjoy the month of Ramadan, from fasts, to charity, to Eid celebrations. George, an iconic and celebrated literary character, is a monkey with curious tendencies. He often gets in to trouble but his caretaker, the Man in the Yellow Hat, is not far behind to help him clean up his mess and wrap it in a well-packaged lesson.
In this new story, George puts away his usual monkeying around to help Kareem make it through his first, and difficult fast by playing games when Kareem smells food cooking from the kitchen. Later in the book, at the end of the month, George stands alongside the Man in the Yellow Hat to watch for the Crescent Moon and welcome Eid.
Hena Khan, a Pakistani-American Muslim from Maryland, authored the new book which was released on May 3, 2016.
“I was happy to be approached by the publisher to write the book about Curious George celebrating Ramadan. They had found my other Muslim-themed picture books, and ‘Night of the Moon’ that specifically focuses on Ramadan. It was an honor to write a book with such a beloved character, and I’m thrilled to be writing a second book featuring Curious George now.”
Not only is “It’s Ramadan, Curious George” a bestseller on Amazon but has its own hashtag, #itsramadancuriousgeorge, on Twitter.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive,” Khan said. “There was a lot of buzz about the book and pre-order sales were strong, and I’ve been relieved to see wonderful reviews and excitement around the book now that people actually have it in their hands. It’s funny that the parents often seem just as excited as their kids about this book, and I often hear things like ‘I wish I had this when I was a kid.’”
The story showcases a different side of Muslim practice and the various cultures that make up those who follow the faith. When George breaks his fast with Kareem, the table is full of foods from all over the world, including a hot pizza, of which George enjoys a slice. Khan intentionally had some characters wear hijab and others not. The Imam of the mosque is depicted as playful and open, joking with George. Kareem gives the Man in the Yellow Hat a fez to replace his iconic yellow hat, as an Eid gift.
“I would say that the book industry is ripe for more Muslim characters, but the key is to have a good story to tell,” Khan said. “I think we need more books on a variety of topics in addition to our holidays. I personally find that translating a good idea into a finished product is really hard sometimes. And I talk to so many people who tell me, ‘I have an idea,’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to write a book.’ If you have good ideas, write them! And don’t be discouraged by rejection. I’ve had my share.”
Curious George has been a beloved character for many decades. The merging of this character with new experiences allows other children a glimpse into a different culture and world.
“There is a growing push for diversity in literature and although it takes time, Muslims are slowly being represented,” Khan said. “It will take a while for us to become mainstream, and not be stereotyped or ‘otherized,’ but I think we are making progress. I was thrilled to hear about Salaam Reads, the new Muslim-focused imprint by Simon & Schuster, for example, and am super excited to have a middle grade novel being published on their inaugural list next year. The decision of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to publish ‘It’s Ramadan, Curious George’ was a huge step in the right direction. And I’m hopeful that other publishers will take note of the strong sales and response and recognize that there is an important gap to be filled. Our Muslim artists need to step up and answer the call, and create good content.”