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'Curious George' Learns How American-Muslims Celebrate Ramadan


Ramadan began earlier this week. And throughout Islam's holy month, observant Muslims will refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. But expect plenty of shopping during this holiday, as well. And Monique Parsons reports on a new batch of books and toys for kids.

MONIQUE PARSONS, BYLINE: At a pre-Ramadan party in suburban Chicago last week, writer Kiran Ansari put out doughnuts, kids-made garlands of paper moons in honor of the lunar month, and Ansari's youngest daughter got a new book - "It's Ramadan, Curious George."

KIRAN ANSARI: Do you like George and Kareem? Do you like that book - that Kareem makes cookies with George?

PARSONS: Two-year-old Soha is way too young to fast. Kids typically start in adolescence. For years, Ansari says, she's looked for ways to make Ramadan fun for her children.

ANSARI: My kids grew up on Curious George. And then, oh, my God - Ramadan book? Curious George? To see our holidays being accepted and celebrated in mainstream characters, that's great.

PARSONS: George has done holidays before - Christmas, Hanukkah, St. Patrick's Day. Editors at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said it was time for the iconic monkey to learn how American Muslims celebrate Ramadan. They figured it might reach a new market and foster understanding. So they recruited Hena Khan, a Maryland writer who's already penned two successful Islamic-themed picture books.

HENA KHAN: I was thrilled by the idea of getting to work on a Curious George book at all. And then to have it be about Ramadan was amazing.

PARSONS: In the story, Curious George follows along as his friend, Kareem, fasts for the first time. They go to a mosque, help with a food drive and receive gifts at the end of the month. The Man with the Yellow Hat gets a yellow fez. When the book was announced, Khan noticed it struck a chord with other Muslim parents.

KHAN: Within, you know, 24 hours, it was all over social media. And just seeing people's reactions, you know, was incredible. And people were like, I can't believe this is a thing. Oh, my gosh, I wish I had this when I was a kid.

PARSONS: "It's Ramadan, Curious George" surpassed the publisher's expectations. They've had to do two extra printings so far. As a child, Khan saw how iconic books and traditions made Christmas special for her Christian friends.

KHAN: I love it, personally. You know, I love the Christmas decorations. I know all the Christmas songs. I love the pumpkin spice lattes and all of it.

PARSONS: As a parent, she wants her kids to feel the same about their traditions. Fatemeh Mashouf grew up in Southern California, and she says Ramadan can be tough.

FATEMEH MASHOUF: It's a lot of - your parents might be grumpy because they haven't eaten. You're going to the mosque every single night sometimes.

PARSONS: There were no decorations, no toys.

MASHOUF: We have very, very, very little for kids to be excited about for Ramadan.

PARSONS: Mashouf's trying to change that. She came up with a toy and book inspired by Elf on the Shelf, a popular doll that helps parents keep kids busy and off Santa's naughty list during the ramp-up to Christmas.

MASHOUF: So I just started writing down the book, basically, and I came up with Rafiq, the Ramadan date palm.

PARSONS: Rafiq means friend in Arabic and Farsi. He's got green, leafy hair and comes with a plate that kids can use to offer dates to their family when they break the fast. She's not worried about commercializing the holiday.

MASHOUF: You know, with all the problems we have, if Ramadan becomes too popular where it becomes commercial (laughter), I'm not so concerned about that right now.

PARSONS: She says she just wants to make Ramadan more meaningful for kids.

MASHOUF: And the reality is children see the world through play.

PARSONS: Mashouf hopes, one day, little, plush palm trees can do for Ramadan what dreidels and egg-hunts do for Hanukkah and Easter. For NPR News, I'm Monique Parsons. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Monique Parsons