Hena Khan on her compassionate new middle grade novel, Drawing Deena

"Most of the themes of the book are tied to things that I’ve been thinking about lately, including what it means to make art and engage with an audience while you’re still evolving as a creative person."


If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being immersed in the middle grade fiction world, you’ll be no stranger to bestselling author, Hena Khan, and the heart that fills the pages of her books. Releasing February 2024, her newest MG novel, Drawing Deena, is yet another must-have for bookshelves everywhere. A kind and compassionate exploration of mental health in children, Drawing Deena, is a beautifully written, fun, and warm story of a young aspiring artist learning the importance of self expression and speaking up for ones own needs. To celebrate the release of this truly special story, we had the honour of chatting to Hena all about it.

Hi Hena! I’m so incredibly excited to get to chat to you today to celebrate the release of your beautiful new middle grade novel, Drawing Deena. For readers who may just be learning about it, how would you best describe it to them?

Thanks so much for inviting me and for this conversation. So, Drawing Deena is about what it means to be a creative person in the era of social media, how to recognize the signs and learn coping skills to manage anxiety, the benefits of finding a mentor, advocating for yourself, discovering the people closest to us can still surprise us, and more!

Can you tell us a little about the inspirations behind the book and Deena’s story?

Sure! Most of the themes of the book are tied to things that I’ve been thinking about lately, including what it means to make art and engage with an audience while you’re still evolving as a creative person. Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with social media even as an adult. Although I know it has many important benefits, it stresses me out, makes me insecure, and takes up so much time if I let it! And I know that for young people, it can introduce new challenges and sources of anxiety. I’ve personally dealt with increased anxiety over the past decade, and witnessed younger family members work to both recognize and confront their own, and that was something I wanted to explore in this book. And I also wanted to focus on important family relationships, like cousins and the mother-daughter relationship in a new way than I have written about in the past.

Over the past few years, anxiety (and mental health in general) has gone from being rarely represented in MG novels, to being more frequently explored and the way you portrayed Deena’s anxiety throughout the novel was truly wonderful. What was your process when it came to exploring mental health in a way that was accessible for a younger audience?

Thank you so much! I wanted to address it a way that felt organic and accessible and take the reader through Deena not knowing that she was feeling anxious, to her coming to terms with it. It can be hard to diagnose anxiety in young people, especially if it manifests in stomach aches or fears, and—like in the case of Deena—if they don’t share what they are experiencing with the grown-ups in their life. At the same time, there are valuable resources available that people may not be aware of, including in a public school setting. Before writing, I interviewed a friend who is a school psychologist, who walked me through the steps of getting support as well as some of the common obstacles and concerns of parents. That was enormously helpful.


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A post shared by Hena Khan (@henakhanbooks)

If Amina from your novel, Amina’s Voice, were to release an album someday, what direction do you think Deena would go in when designing its cover?

I love this question! I can imagine Deena getting inspiration from one of the Pakistani women artists she learns about, Shahzia Sikander, and creating a motif where Amina’s cover is truly representative of who she is as a person. I could see Deena putting a retro spin on her design, as a nod to Amina’s love of Motown classics, and including elements that reflect her strong identity as a Pakistani American Muslim and need to include all parts of herself. I envision it including lots of orange, but that’s probably because of the gorgeous book cover that was illustrated by Abigail De La Cruz who I was lucky enough to also have illustrate the stunning Drawing Deena cover.

If young Hena Khan had the chance to spend the day with Deena and her friends/family, how would she have liked to have spent it?

Oh, that would be so fun! When I was growing up, we would visit family friends frequently and they were some of the happiest times of my childhood. I imagine a day with Deena and her family would involve a delicious meal of some kind, since food is such a big part of hosting friends and hospitality in my culture. And then it would be time to retreat to a bedroom where we would probably play board games, listen to music, talk, joke around, and bond about how to get through school and life together.

Are there any middle grade titles you’ve read recently you think readers who loved Drawing Deena would enjoy?

I think they would love Mirror to Mirror by Rajani LaRocca, Merci Suarez Plays It Cool by Meg Medina (and the entire series for that matter!), Tagging Freedom by Rhonda Roumani, and Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee. These books all emphasize interpersonal dynamics and center families, and feature protagonists who both think and care deeply about others while they are figuring themselves out.

Jumping off that; are there are 2024 MG releases you can’t wait to get your hands on?

I’m excited about many forthcoming titles, but especially about the Amil and the After by Veera Hiranandani since I adored The Night Diary, and The Unbeatable Lily Hong by Diana Ma since it sounds so relatable and fun and because I’m a fan of Diana’s work.

Finally, are you currently working on anything new and if so, is there anything you can share with us about it?

I’m currently working on my second graphic novel, which involves a big international family trip and lots of shenanigans! My debut graphic novel, We Are Big Time, releases this summer and I’m thrilled to be writing another one! You can learn about all my current and upcoming books on my website www.henakhan.com, and connect with me on social media @henakhanbooks or sign up for my newsletter to stay informed about my work and share your thoughts with me. I love getting feedback from readers!

Hena Khan (she/her/hers) is a Pakistani American writer and winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice, Amina’s Song, More to the Story, Drawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, Under 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.
Tour details:
Sunday, February 4, 2024 at 2:00pm ET
In-store event at People’s Book (Takoma Park, MD)
In conversation with Sabaa Tahir
Monday, February 5, 2024 at 7:00pm ET
In-store event at Scrawl Books (Reston, VA)
In conversation with Saira Mir
Tuesday, February 6 at 6:00pm ET
In-store event at Politics and Prose at The Wharf (Washington, D.C.)
In conversation with James Ponti
Thursday, February 8 at 6:00pm ET
In-store event at Books of Wonder (New York, NY)
In conversation with Alyson Gerber
Saturday, February 10 at 2:30pm ET
Off-site event at Islamic Center of North Fulton (Alpharetta, GA)
In partnership with Little Shop of Stories
In conversation with Aisha Saeed
Sunday, February 18 at 1:00pm ET
Barnes & Noble (Rockville, MD)
In conversation with Leah Henderson

Get your copy of Drawing Deena by Hena Khan here.

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