Arts & Life
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This article was published 18/6/2016 (1559 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Wondering how to explain to her toddler that mommy is not eating or drinking during daylight hours for the next few weeks, Winnipeg teacher Taj Shakir-Farooqui employed the help of an inquisitive little monkey.
Turns out two-and-a-half-year-old Zoya loves listening to the rhymes and looking at the illustrations in the recently released children’s board book, It’s Ramadan, Curious George by American author Hena Khan.
"This actually made it so much easier to help understand what was going on (during Ramadan). She loves Curious George," explains Shakir-Farooqui, principal of Al-Noor Weekend Islamic School.
Employing four-line rhymes reminiscent of the original 1941 book by H.A. Rey, Khan takes young readers through the 30 days of the Islamic holy month in only 14 pages.
The book opens with George baking sweets with his friend Kareem, moves through a day of fasting, follows the pair through the evening meal, sharing good deeds, spotting the moon, and finally celebrating Eid with new clothes and feasting. And the man in the yellow hat? He’s supporting George throughout, and dons a yellow fez on the last page.
"What I tried to do is to stay true to George," explains Khan, who along with a Curious George mascot, meets readers from 1 to 3 p.m. today at Indigo Books, 1590 Kenaston Blvd.
"He gets into some mischief but it has a positive outcome."
While visiting a mosque, George spies an opportunity in the shoes at the front door, and attempts to give them away to needy folks, before being stopped by the imam, who promises that the community will organize a clothing drive next year.
"I wanted to focus on the perspective of a child and the things children would be focused on," Khan says of her book, which does not discuss the religious significance of fasting for Muslims.
She was also careful to include George as a supporter of Kareem’s activities during Ramadan, but the little monkey does not actually fast or give the impression he is more than a visitor.
"As a Muslim growing up in North America, I have friends who have fasted (during Ramadan) just to try it," says the Rockville, Md.-based author of four previous children’s books, including two on Islam.
American publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hired Khan to explain practices and traditions of Ramadan to young readers as part of a larger series on other holidays, including Christmas, Hannukah and Thanksgiving, explains the executive editor for HMH Books for Young Readers.
"We create the publishing plans and hire writers and illustrators to write and draw in the style of H.A. Rey for new original books," says Elizabeth Bennett.
"I reached out specifically to Hena to write the Ramadan book because I wanted a writer who was Muslim and would insure that the correct care was given to the story."
During her only stop in Canada to promote the book, Khan reads at a public event 2 p.m. Sunday, June 19 at the Grand Mosque, 2445 Waverley St., leads a writer’s workshop, and visits three schools.
The book is in its third printing with some talk of issuing a paperback version, says Khan, who is overwhelmed by the strong response from her fellow Muslims.
"They’ve been so overjoyed by this simple story of a monkey celebrating Ramadan," says the mother of two sons, ages 11 and 15.
Young Zoya is thrilled with George’s adventures as well, and pays careful attention to the illustrations by Mary O’Keefe Young, which depict a diversity of Muslims gathering for Ramadan activities, says Shakir-Farooqui.
"What I liked about this is she could look at the pictures and tell exactly what was going on," says Shakir-Farooqui, who does not wear a hijab, but her mother does.
"(This book shows) it’s OK to not wear the hijab, and it’s OK to wear the hijab."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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