Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re talking with Hena Khan, the author of the
ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM series!
Fourth grader Zayd Saleem has some serious hoop dreams. He’s not just going to be a professional basketball player. He’s going to be a star. A legend. The first Pakistani-American kid to make it to the NBA. He knows this deep in his soul. It’s his destiny. There are only a few small things in his way.
For starters, Zayd’s only on the D-team. (D stands for developmental, but to Zayd it’s always felt like a bad grade or something.) Not to mention, he’s a bit on the scrawny side, even for the fourth grade team. But his best friend Adam is on the Gold Team, and it’s Zayd’s dream for the two of them to play together.
His mom and dad don’t get it. They want him to practice his violin way more than his jump shot. When he gets caught blowing off his violin lessons to practice, Zayd’s parents lay down the ultimate punishment: he has to hang up his high tops and isn’t allowed to play basketball anymore.
As tryouts for the Gold Team approach, Zayd has to find the courage to stand up for himself and chase his dream. – Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream #1)
Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her awesome books!
This is Hena. Everyone say, “Hi, Hena!”
Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Hena! Tell us about yourself!
Thanks for hosting me! I’m a writer who lives in Maryland, which is where I was born and raised by Pakistani immigrants to the U.S. People are amazed to hear that I have lived within the same five-mile radius my entire life, except for a study abroad to Spain while I was in college! I’m a mom to two teen boys and love to travel with my family, bake decadent desserts, and read in bed. I feel very lucky to be able write books that help introduce a bit about my background and culture to readers!
Where did the idea for the ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM series come from?
Like so many ideas, it came from something that really happened—but not to me. When we were driving to his parents’ house one day, my husband told me a story that I hadn’t heard before—about how he as a kid had the brilliant idea to sneak into the gym to play basketball when his mom dropped him off at school for violin lessons. He got away with it for a while, until he left his violin in the car when he got out, and his mom discovered it later. Thinking he needed it, she returned to the school to give it to him. And of course she went to the music room, and he wasn’t there. The story made me laugh as I imagined him hatching up this plan and getting busted! And that was the spark for the series about a basketball-obsessed boy who makes mistakes but has a good heart and a loving and family full of personalities that mirrors ours in many ways.
Ah! What a sneaky dude! Such a great backstory!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on the series?
First, I discovered that it’s incredibly satisfying to write a series, because you get to know your characters after writing the first book, and then have the chance to stick them in different situations and scenarios in future books and already know how they are going to feel or react, like they are real people.
Second, I realized that even though I wrote a sports-themed series, I could still include story lines I love to write about, like friendship, family, and culture, and that they had just as important a place in the stories.
The third and most interesting thing I found out though was probably the fact that my friends don’t think I’m funny in real life! After several of them read POWER FORWARD, the first book in the series, they said, with a with a mix of shock and accusation in their voices, “its really FUNNY!” or “it made me laugh and I didn’t expect it to be FUNNY!” or “good job, I didn’t know you could be FUNNY.” So there’s that. I wasn’t offended. 😀
Zayd, your main character, is a basketball player with dreams of making it big. Are you a big basketball fan or are you into some other form of sportsball?
I am a big basketball fan, and even though I can’t dribble or shoot a layup to save my life, I live in a household where everyone else plays regularly. We are all big fanatics. March Madness, the NCAA college basketball tournament, has almost a sacred role in my family and brackets are serious business. For the NBA, we are Washington Wizards fans, like Zayd Saleem and go to a handful of games each season, which is always exciting and at times heartbreaking. It was super convenient when writing this series to be able to bounce ideas (no pun intended) off of my husband and kids, and to have in-house fact checkers and helpers for designing games and play sequences.
That is so cool! I love how involved your family was with the whole process.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Beverly Cleary is my children’s literary hero, and I grew up immersed in her books, rereading them over and over again. I would love Zayd and his family to get to know Ramona Quimby and her cast of characters like Beezus and Henry Huggins and to share little adventures in their neighborhood together.
I would 100% read that crossover!
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I read the most when I was in my middle grade years and spent a lot of free time with my nose in a book. It’s when books spoke the loudest to me, and when characters I connected with helped to shape me. I wanted to write for the age group that can get truly lost in the magic of a story and forget the world around them, and grow as they connect with stories and absorb details, all while being entertained.
Any hints about your next book project?
Yes! I’m finishing up another middle grade novel about four sisters that I hope will be ready for publication next summer! It’s actually inspired by my favorite book of all time, Little Women, and in some ways is a love letter to that book. I can’t wait for others to read it.
Sounds great! Can’t wait to read it!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Probably how much of being an author involves doing things that don’t come naturally to me. I know I like to play with words and tell stories. I know that I like to edit, sometimes even more than I like to write. But apart from learning how challenging and confusing the publishing industry can be to navigate, I didn’t realize that I would be tested in new ways and need to develop public speaking skills, take on a social media presence, learn to get out of my comfort zone and network and promote my work and so on. Authors need to get out there these days more than ever.
What are you reading right now?
I read YA and MG books almost exclusively and have a huge stack to read! At the moment I’m reading an ARC of the anthology BLACK ENOUGH, which I’m enjoying very much, and next on my list is The VANDERBEEKERS AND THE HIDDEN GARDEN by Karina Glaser.
Love the Vanderbeekers!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Probably that we all can get better at the things we are passionate about through practice and commitment—whether it’s hitting a ball, writing a beautiful sentence, or baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Everyone who has success has put in time and effort, and gotten up when they fell and tried again. As the amazing author Jacqueline Woodson said, “Brilliance is passion recognized.” We all have passions, and have to put in the work if we ever hope to be recognized as brilliant one day!
Yes! So true!
Thank you for joining us, Hena!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out the whole Zayd Saleem series!
Add ZAYD SALEEM, CHASING THE DREAM on Goodreads!
Click here to enter to win a copy of POWER FORWARD, ON POINT, and BOUNCE BACK!
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more fun interviews!