By Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi
Today we’re thrilled to welcome Hena Khan to the WNDB blog to discuss the first book of a series, Zara’s Rules for Record Breaking Fun, out April 19th, 2022!
Meet Zara Saleem, the queen of the neighborhood.
Zara’s in charge of it all: she organizes the games, picks the teams, and makes sure everyone has a good time…and they always do.
When a new family moves in across the street, suddenly Zara’s reign is threatened by Naomi, who has big ideas of her own about how the neighborhood kids can have fun. To get everyone to notice her again, Zara decides she’s going to break a Guinness World Record—if her little brother Zayd doesn’t mess things up.
But when she finds herself increasingly alone in her record-breaking quest, Zara starts to wonder if sharing the crown and making a new friend might end up being the best rule of all.
Where did you get your inspiration to write Zara’s Rules?
As a kid, I adored books that featured kids who were hard at play, dreaming up antics, and even getting into trouble. Some of my favorite books included the Ramona Quimby series, which were filled with humor and silliness but also had a lot of emotional depth. My goal was to write a series with characters who feel similarly real and relatable—the friends you wish you had—set in a neighborhood that’s fun and appealing. It was a bit nostalgic for me to write it, because I based a lot of what happens in the books on memories from my childhood.
Who is Zara and why do you have a series dedicated to her?
Zara is a girl with a strong personality, who’s very much still trying to figure herself out. She likes to make lists of rules and to be in charge. But she also wants to be fair and to be liked, has a big heart, and tries to do the right thing. Zara’s the type of kid who isn’t passionate about one specific thing—instead, she has a ton of interests and is often trying something new and unexpected. Readers familiar with the Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream series might remember Zara as Zayd’s older sister and they will get to spend more time with the extended family.
We have Zara’s Rules for Record Breaking Fun coming out in April and you will also have Zara’s Rules for Finding Hidden Treasures coming out in October. How many books do you foresee in this series?
We currently have three books scheduled for the series, but I’d love to continue to write more! I think there are many possibilities for new adventures featuring Zara.
Neuroscientists have often explained that middle schoolers experience rapid brain development particularly in the areas of social emotional learning and empathy maturity. How does this inform your writing for Zara’s Rules? What themes do you anticipate to touch upon in this series?
That is a great question! I touch on themes like making room for more friends in your life, how to decide what is worth saving or not, how to help family members going through a tough time, sibling rivalry, and more. I hope that while kids are laughing and being entertained by this series, they’ll see how Zara navigates some tricky situations, figure out where her heart is, and decides what really matters to her.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Each of the books stands on its own and is a complete story. But for readers of the series, there are references to past event and things they will remember or recognize, which I hope will just add to the fun of reading them.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, because I’m actually experiencing it right now! But it’s not what I imagined it to be. I thought writer’s block would be more like it seems on TV, where no words come out of you, and you’re just plain stuck. For me, it manifests as extreme doubt about what I’m working on, which in turn demotivates me and makes me procrastinate. The trick for me is to turn to a trusted friend, editor, or family member for help! And that’s what I’m in the process of doing.
What is a question you wished you were asked more often?
I was asked by a child during a school visit last week about what I like most about my culture. It made me happy to reflect on the wonderful aspects of being a Pakistani American, and a Muslim, and what brings me the most joy. I’m often asked about my background and the challenges around not being represented or included, whether I was bullied, and so on. So, it felt good to focus on the positive!
What does literary success look like for you?
I’d be lying if I said that sales numbers and awards don’t mean anything to me. But ultimately it truly does come down to the kids who are reading my books, who tell me that they love a book I’ve written, that it’s a favorite, or that I’m their favorite author. It can’t get better than hearing that, which is the purest form of success for me. I try to savor those moments and to remember them for the times when I feel low or unsure about myself and where I am in my career.
Hena Khan is an award-winning author of picture books and middle grade fiction. Her middle grade novel Amina’s Voice launched Simon & Schuster’s groundbreaking Salaam Reads imprint and was named a Best Book of 2017 by the Washington Post, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, and others. The sequel, Amina’s Song, was recently released. Hena wrote the popular Zayd Saleem Chasing the Dream series, and More to the Story is a novel inspired by her all-time favorite book, Little Women. Hena’s acclaimed picture books include Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets, Night of the Moon, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George.
Hena began writing for children with Scholastic book clubs, publishing books for a number of popular series about spies, space and more. She went on to write several choose-your-own format books including adventures to Mars and the Amazon rainforest. But, as a mother, Hena yearned to see books that represented kids like her children and decided to write them.
Today, Hena writes full time, often highlighting aspects of her culture, faith, community, friendship and family, and she draws heavily from own experiences. She enjoys presenting to children, educators, community members and others, and being a mom to two now teenaged boys. Whenever she gets the chance, Hena travels with her family, bakes, and reads books written by her favorite children’s authors.
Yasmine Aslam-Hashmi is an international educator who is passionate about inclusive education. She has taught various age groups from primary all the way up to Grade 12. She is a trained teacher in Special Education, English as an Additional Language, Geography, Science, and an International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge Teacher. Yasmine strives to advocate for inclusive practices, promotes and supports diversity, and speaks up for injustices no matter how small they may be. She’s a Canadian at heart, born in London, England, but a global traveler who has lived in the Middle East and the US. She currently resides in Switzerland.