- - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The latest installment in the Curious George children’s book series will feature the main character meeting a family of Muslims and celebrating the Islamic holy month of fasting known as Ramadan. The young monkey will visit a mosque, participate in the “iftar” meal when Muslims break their fast each day, and learn about the Islamic Eid holiday.

Titled “It’s Ramadan, Curious George”, the new publication follows a series of books exploring religious holidays including “Merry Christmas, Curious George” and “Happy Hanukkah, Curious George.” In 2009, a film entitled “Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas” was released to audiences, exploring similar themes.

HMH Books for Kids is one of several major publishing houses focusing on Muslim literature products. Last week, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing announce the release of “Salaam Reads.” In a statement, the company said “Salaam Reads will introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families, and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.”

Simon & Schuster is known for their popular children’s books including “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and the “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” series.

“There is an incredible range of cultural and religious traditions among Muslims in the United States and across the globe, illustrating that there is no one way to be Muslim,” said executive editor Zareen Jaffery in the statement. “Our aim with the Salaam Reads imprint is in part to provide fun and compelling books for Muslim children, but we also intend for these books to be entertaining and enriching for a larger non-Muslim audience.”

Dr. Seyed Nakhjavani, a professor of Islam at Hartford Seminary, and the Imam Ali Chair of Shia Studies, said “The publication of children’s books about Muslims is a great way for both the elder and the younger generations to learn about Islam. In a sense, it’s a type of interfaith dialogue and I welcome it. Every discussion about religion does not need to be an argument, we can have constructive dialogue for the betterment of society as a whole.”

The book is written by Hena Khan, a Maryland-based mother of two, with degrees in Government, Politics and International Affairs who has written several popular children’s books. Ms. Khan was approached by the publisher of the Curious George series for a new book exploring basic tenets of Islam.

Ms. Khan describes her goals by saying “In this book, like in my others, I focus on Ramadan and Eid through the lens of what is appealing to a child and the fun aspects of the month and holiday, like breaking fast as a community, eating special foods and treats, exchanging gifts, and special times with friends and family. George loves a new adventure, to help people out, and to have fun, and he does all three in the book.”

Curious George has had many authors over the years since it was initially created by Hans Augusto Rey in 1939. Each author has contributed with their own imprint on the Curious George story.

“I want to be authentic to the Curious George legacy,” says Ms. Khan. “However, there are some changes. I read the classics, like Curious George Goes to the Hospital, but they were from a certain time period and reflected different values. The doctors were all men; the women were all nurses, stuff like that. Recently, new authors writing for Curious George have modernized themes and attitudes, but followed the original style of the author.

“It was nice to see that change and that progression, so the way I view my contribution with the Ramadan book is continuing along that path.”

Ms. Khan has received support from a variety of places, and has been deluged with messages on social media.

“One person said ‘Is this really a thing?’ – He was so excited! Other people said they wished they had something like this when they were growing up, and others are telling me they want to buy the book and share it with their families.

“I have received overwhelming support from so many people inside and outside the Muslim community. It has been heartwarming to see their reaction; it was everything I had hoped for and I haven’t seen anything negative.”

“It’s Ramadan, Curious George” was released in May and is available on Amazon.

“The editor at HMH told me that pre-order sales were unprecedented for this book. To me, this demonstrates that there is a homegrown interest in books like this, and that other books like this would be equally well received” says Ms. Khan. “I personally have received huge support form librarians and educators across the country, who are very much interested in teaching kids about Muslims and dispelling stereotypes.”

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