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Amina's Song

LIST PRICE $17.99

“For inspiring empathy in young readers, you can’t get better than this book.” —R. J. Palacio, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wonder

In the companion novel to the beloved and award-winning Amina’s Voice, Amina once again uses her voice to bridge the places, people, and communities she loves—this time across continents.

It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family—all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale.

After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?

Chapter 1 1


As I reach for a pair of silver earrings that my best friend, Soojin, might like, Zohra smacks my hand away.

“Don’t touch anything!” she hisses.

“How am I supposed to look, then?” I laugh as I rub my wrist.

“With your eyes, and then keep walking. Tell me what you like, and I’ll go back and get a good price.”

“What if I want to see something up close?” The market is overflowing with a dizzying array of goods—rows of glittery bangles in every color imaginable, bolts of silky fabric, and mounds of beaded slippers, hair accessories, and evening bags. It’s all screaming to be picked up, or at least photographed. I’ve already taken at least fifty photos and videos, and we’ve only been here for half an hour.

“Don’t act interested in anything, Amina! And put your phone away.” Zohra’s tone is firm, and she suddenly sounds more like my mother than my sixteen-year-old cousin.

I glance at my older brother, Mustafa, who’s walking a few paces behind us, like a bodyguard. He’s dressed in dark jeans and a T-shirt, and his short scruffy beard makes him look older than Zohra, even though they’re the same age.

“Do what she says.” He shrugs. “You don’t want to get ripped off.”

I slip my phone back into my bag, resist inspecting the earrings, and keep moving. It took a bit of convincing to get Zohra to bring us here, instead of the fancy shopping center we’ve already been to twice in three weeks. Being there made me feel like I was back at Southridge Mall in Greendale, Wisconsin, instead of where I am: Lahore, Pakistan.

I’ve been wanting to visit Anarkali Bazaar despite Zohra’s warnings about pushy salespeople and pickpockets. Mustafa and I grew up hearing Mama’s stories about how she’d wait for school to end and catch a rickshaw here when she was a teen. When she described sharing freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and spicy samosa plates with her girlfriends in vivid detail, I could almost taste them.

My hopes of finally tasting those things in real life were crushed when Mama cautioned, “Don’t eat anything off the street” as the three of us left my uncle’s home with his driver, who dropped us off at the market. Mama’s worried that our American stomachs won’t be able to handle anything but filtered water, home-cooked meals, and a handful of approved restaurants. That means no samosa plates from the carts we pass, no matter how incredible they smell.

“Imported from China.” Zohra clicks her tongue against her teeth as she watches me eye a sparkly clip that I can picture in my friend Emily’s long blond hair. “You want things made in Pakistan, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Stuff my friends can’t get in Greendale.”

“Your friends can get anything from anywhere,” Mustafa reminds me. “Thanks to something called the Internet.”

“Okay, stuff they don’t have, then.” Mama already bought gifts for our closest family friends, Salma Auntie and Hamid Uncle. I picked out an outfit for their daughter, Rabiya, since we have the same taste in desi clothes: nothing itchy or “auntie-looking.”

Zohra links her arm with mine and navigates me through the crowds, warning me for the seventeenth time to watch my purse. I wouldn’t be carrying a purse if I were wearing jeans, but I’m in a thin cotton shalwar kameez that’s more comfortable in the fierce summer heat. My hand is gripping the bag that’s stuffed with the money I collected from generous relatives excited to see me for the first time in eight years, and I try not to bump into people.

“Your friends will like those.” Zohra points with her eyebrows toward a stall filled with colorful lacquered boxes and figurines. “They’re made in Kashmir.”

“They’re pretty,” I agree.

“Go see, but don’t say anything. Once the shopkeeper hears your English, the price will triple.”

I wander over and pretend to admire a shawl when I notice a green-and-gold box with a curved lid. It’s shaped like a little treasure chest and would be perfect for Soojin. Then I spot some stunning jewelry in a glass case, including a silver necklace with a row of small cobalt-blue stones. I try not to stare at it.

Zohra turns to the shopkeeper after I secretly signal what I want to her.

“Bhai Sahib,” she beckons in Urdu, calling the man with a mustache and thick glasses Mister Brother to be polite. “Tell me the right price for this. No ripping me off.” Her tone is surprisingly aggressive.

Then Zohra picks up a candleholder, instead of the green box. When I start to protest, she gives me a death stare. I watch in silence as they haggle in Urdu over the price of something I don’t want. Mister Brother claims excellent quality. My cousin complains it’s robbery and says she isn’t a fool. Then Zohra suddenly drops the candleholder as if she’s deeply offended by it and starts to walk away.

Mustafa watches, his dark eyes amused, as Zohra yanks my arm and starts to drag me off with her.

“Sister, see this,” Mister Brother offers when our backs are turned and we’re almost in the next stall. “I give you this for a good price.”

Zohra turns around reluctantly.

“Don’t waste our time. We’re in a hurry.”

“Come, see, very good price.”

Zohra squeezes my arm and returns to the stall, acting like she’s doing Mister Brother a favor. He shows her some bowls and gives her a number in rupees. I have no idea how much money that is since my Urdu is especially terrible when it comes to numbers. Plus, I forget how to convert Pakistani currency into dollars. Zohra shakes her head and then points toward the box I want.

“How about that? Can you live with it?” she asks me, wrinkling her nose as if it’s barely worth considering.

I start to sweat.

Am I supposed to say yes or no?

I take a gamble and nod yes.

“Okay, final price. No games.” Zohra challenges the shopkeeper.

The arguing continues until Mister Brother finally gives Zohra a number she grudgingly accepts.

“What color?” she asks me. I point to the green box for Soojin and a turquoise one for Emily. Zohra adds another bright red one to the pile.

“From me to you,” she says.

“What about that necklace?” I whisper to Zohra. She starts to shake her head, but Mister Brother has superhuman hearing and whips the case open and hands me the necklace before she finishes.

“Very nice,” he says in English.

Zohra gives me another glare, and Mustafa starts to chuckle. I giggle too. There’s no way Mister Brother hasn’t figured out we aren’t from here, no matter how hard Zohra tries to hide it. We’ve got American written all over us. Mustafa’s T-shirt literally has the Captain America logo on it.

“It’s very pretty,” I say in my best Urdu, although I know my accent sounds pathetic. “What are these stones?”

“Lapis,” Mister Brother replies in English, beaming. “Very real, very cheap.”

Zohra tries to convince me to walk away again, but I won’t budge.

“Can you give me your best price, please?” I imitate the Urdu phrase I’ve heard Zohra use. Mister Brother gives me a nod of acknowledgment, but then Zohra takes over, speaking for me. My face burns.

How am I supposed to get better at Urdu if no one lets me practice?

I can’t understand everything they’re saying, but it’s obvious Mister Brother has the upper hand. After he names his final price, I pull out the wad of rupees from my purse, and Zohra counts some and hands them over in defeat. She won’t look at me. But I take the necklace and thank the man in Urdu. And he grins like he just won the lottery.
Reading Group Guide for

Amina’s Song

By Hena Khan

About the Book

Aminas Song picks up after Amina’s Voice leaves off; these books can be read in any order as companion novels. As Amina prepares to enter seventh grade, she becomes more aware of navigating her dual identities as an American and a Pakistani girl. A summer trip to visit her uncle Thaya Jaan and extended family in Pakistan opens her eyes to the rich culture of her family's homeland, sparking a desire to share her culture with her friends and classmates in America and to counter stereotypes. Music provides the answer that she's looking for, but this time around, she won't use her voice to sing a song written by someone else; with the help of her new friend Nico, she will share her own unique song with the world.

Discussion Questions

1. Before you begin reading, brainstorm everything you know or think you know about the country of Pakistan. Next, make a list of things you want to know about Pakistan. After you finish reading, look back at your list. Were the things you believed you knew correct? What did you learn about Pakistan by reading Amina’s Song? What are you still curious to know?

2. Why was Amina initially nervous about visiting Pakistan? Explain how her experience in Pakistan was different from what she expected.

3. Amina remembers her father explaining the difference between rational and irrational fear. Why is it important to recognize this distinction? How can you tell the difference? Can you give examples from your own experiences or from the novel?

4. Why does Amina want her classmates and friends in America to see Pakistan the way she sees it? Why is she happy when she learns that America is helping to preserve a World Heritage Site in Pakistan?

5. Why do you think Amina is emotional when it comes time for her visit to Pakistan to end? Can you relate to how Amina feels when she says goodbye to her uncle, aunts, and cousins? What experience of your own comes to mind?

6. Amina and her cousin Zohra have very different approaches to bargaining with the street vendors at the market in Pakistan. Describe the differences in the ways they approach their roles as customers. Do you think you would be more like Zohra or Amina in a similar situation?

7. Explain how seeing the little boy asking for money in Pakistan impacts Amina. How does she turn this sense of empathy into action to help others once she returns to America?

8. When she is on the plane returning to the United States, Amina wonders if her brother is “as mixed up as I am, as we travel not only through time zones but also from one part of our lives to another.” Why does leaving Pakistan cause her to feel this way? Do you have a place that is so important to you that it feels like it is a part of you? Explain your answers.

9. Why does Soojin decide to run for student body president? What sets her campaign apart from her competitors? Have you ever considered running for student government? Explain your answers.

10. What does Amina realize about Rabiya’s feelings toward her friendship with Zohra and her trip to Pakistan? What do you think might have happened if Amina had gotten angry with Rabiya instead of considering how Rabiya might be feeling? What actions does she take instead, and how does her response toward Rabiya impact their relationship?

11. Toward the end of the book, Amina reflects, “even if my friends can't understand everything I've been going through lately, they're trying. And we can support each other while we do different things.” What steps does Amina take to maintain her friendships with Emily and Soojin? Why do you think some friends grow apart while others remain? Can you learn anything from Amina, Soojin, and Emily about how to be a good friend?

12. Why does Amina choose to research Malala for her history project? Explain why sharing her preliminary research makes Amina worry that she’s chosen the wrong person to profile. How does Amina solve this dilemma? Why do you think her teacher calls her decision “brave”?

13. All the seventh-grade students participate in a Living Wax Museum project, where they research, dress as, and present reports on a historical figure. You may have participated in a similar project in the past. If so, whom did you choose as your historical figure? Reflect on your reasons for selecting them and what you learned. If you have never participated in this activity, whom would you select to research and impersonate? Why would you choose them?

14. One of Amina’s strengths is her ability to consider what other people might be thinking or experiencing and how they might feel. Read the last paragraphs of chapter eleven. What can you learn from Amina’s example? How does having and practicing empathy change the way a person interacts with other people?

15. What is the difference between primary sources and secondary research sources? Why is it important to look at a variety of different sources when you are gathering information? What can happen if you only use one source or one type of reference source in your research?

16. Amina is frustrated by her friends’ and family's assumptions that she is romantically interested in Nico. She reflects, “But maybe I want to be friends with a boy without everyone assuming he's my boyfriend.” Have you ever been in a situation like Amina? Do you think that it's harder for boys and girls to be friends as they get older? Explain your answers.

17. Describe the special bond that Amina has with her uncle, Thaya Jaan. Do you have a family member whom you feel particularly close to? What interests or activities brought you together?

Extension Activities

1. This book is a companion novel to Amina’s Voice. Read both books and consider how Amina’s character develops throughout. Identify events in the first book that are significant to her character's development, and discuss how these events impact her in the second book. For example, in the first book, Amina’s mosque is vandalized, an event that is alluded to several times in Aminas Song. How does this continue to impact the way Amina feels and responds to others?

2. Children like Amina, who grow up in between two cultures, are sometimes referred to as “Third-Culture Kids” or TCK, a term that recognizes the impact of growing up in a culture different from a parent’s culture. Amina describes this sensation when she says, “I can't help feeling like an impostor or a shapeshifter who appears to be a regular Pakistani girl on the outside but doesn't know how to act like one.” Research the concept of third-culture kids, and think about Amina’s experiences in the book. Then write an essay considering the following questions: What unique challenges might TCKs face? What are the benefits of being a TCK? Alternatively, if you identify as a TCK, write an essay sharing and reflecting on some of your experiences. Then participate in a class or small group discussion about what most surprised you or what you felt were the most important conclusions in your essay. What can you do to make your classroom or community more welcoming or inclusive? What kinds of things would you like to learn about your classmates?

3. Amina documents her trip to Pakistan by taking photos and videos. Journaling gives her another way to preserve her memories, and she is eventually able to create a song and video about her trip. Look back at photos and videos of a special day or memorable trip and then write down your memories and reflections about what the experience meant to you; if you don’t have these items, consider talking to the people who were with you to remember some of your favorite parts about the experience. As Amina says, “All the memories, funny moments, and unforgettable scenes living inside me, things I've been thinking about and writing about in my notebook, are parts of me.” Use your memories to create a song, collage, video, webpage, slideshow, poem, podcast, or even a narrative essay to document and share this part of your life with others.

4. Amina finds herself drawn to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a musician who performed in a traditional Pakistani style known as Qawwali. Research this style of music and explain the cultural significance of Qawwali. Choose one Qawwali song and analyze the lyrics. Can you think of any Western songs that have similar themes or messages? Why do you think this music resonates so strongly with Amina?

5. Soojin's cousin inspires her to run for student government by telling her, “‘we can't afford to sit on the sidelines because we're the next generation of leaders.’” Work with a small group to discuss a local, national, or global problem that you would like to help tackle, and brainstorm ways to make a difference through community service.

6. When Amina is anxious or upset, she often gets a stomachache. Research the different ways anxiety can impact physical well-being, and find strategies to help deal with it. Present your findings in an informational poster or flyer to help raise awareness about best practices for managing and talking about mental health.

7. Amina describes her feelings by saying, “It's like a piece of me was left in Pakistan, and I wonder when I'll be whole again.” When she shares this with her friends, she finds out that Soojin hasn’t visited Korea in years, and her friend Emily misses her summer camp. Write a descriptive essay about a place that is important or meaningful to you. Try to describe it with the same level of detail that author Hena Khan uses to describe Pakistan, making sure to use imagery or words that appeal to each of the five senses to help your reader picture the place you describe.

8. Amina’s family works with their faith community to help refugees get settled in America. How do different members of the community contribute? Why is it important to make people feel welcome? Choose one of the following projects:

Research local or national organizations that help refugees, and share ways your classmates can help.

Develop a plan for ways that your school can formally welcome transfer students, help them make friends, and adjust to a new school.

9. Nico teaches himself and then Amina how to use music-editing software on his laptop. Most computers, phones, and tablets have access to programs for music composition and editing. Using a photo or group of pictures as inspiration, try composing a short piece of music about your memory. Consider the way that different sounds, beats, and melodies can reflect emotions. You can choose to include lyrics in your song, or you can make it instrumental.

Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy in Florida.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photo (c) Havar Espedal

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at HenaKhan.com or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

* "Khan excellently weaves together complex issues of feeling torn between two parts of one’s identity, illness in the family, helping others, and finding out that growing up does not have to mean growing apart. Highly recommended for all collections."

– Booklist, starred review

"Readers will enjoy being along for the ride as Amina sorts through mild middle school turbulence and finds satisfying ways to express and share her true self... A sweet sequel."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Powerful, important, and compelling... Khan is too gifted a storyteller."

– Jarrett Lerner, MG Book Village

PRAISE FOR AMINA'S VOICE

"For inspiring empathy in young readers, you can’t get better than this book." 

– R. J. Palacio, author of #1 New York Times bestseller WONDER

*"Amina's middle school woes and the universal themes running through the book transcend culture, race, and religion. A perfect first book for this new Muslim imprint."

– Kirkus Reviews, starred review

*"A universal story of self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. A welcome addition to any middle grade collection."

 

– School Library Journal, starred review

*"Written as beautifully as Amina’s voice surely is, this compassionate, timely novel is highly recommended for all libraries."

– Booklist, starred review

"Watching Amina literally and figuratively find her voice—bolstered by community, friendship, and discovered inner strength—makes for rewarding reading."

– Publishers Weekly

"[A] relatable portrayal of a tween who wants to fit in, and who’s devoted to her faith even amid her confusion about her family’s varied approaches to it."

– Horn Book

"This gentle example of multicultural domestic realism hits all of the right notes...a comforting counternarrative to what young readers may see on the news."

– BCCB

"Realistic fiction centered on a Pakistani-American Muslim girl is a refreshing change in the middle grade market.....It’s solid storyline and the common denominator of middle school drama highlights the fact that students from all backgrounds may be more alike than they realize. Recommended."

– School Library Connection

"Hena Khan (It's Ramadan, Curious George) writes a gentle coming-of-age story universal in theme and original in context, and appealing to any reader who has just wanted to slow the world down."

– Shelf Awareness

More books from this author: Hena Khan

More books in this series: Amina's Voice