From the critically acclaimed author of Amina’s Voice comes a new story inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic, Little Women, featuring four sisters from a modern American Muslim family living in Georgia.
When Jameela Mirza is picked to be feature editor of her middle school newspaper, she’s one step closer to being an award-winning journalist like her late grandfather. The problem is her editor-in-chief keeps shooting down her article ideas. Jameela’s assigned to write about the new boy in school, who has a cool British accent but doesn’t share much, and wonders how she’ll make his story gripping enough to enter into a national media contest.
Jameela, along with her three sisters, is devastated when their father needs to take a job overseas, away from their cozy Georgia home for six months. Missing him makes Jameela determined to write an epic article—one to make her dad extra proud. But when her younger sister gets seriously ill, Jameela’s world turns upside down. And as her hunger for fame looks like it might cost her a blossoming friendship, Jameela questions what matters most, and whether she’s cut out to be a journalist at all...
This is the worst Eid ever!” Aleeza flops onto the sofa and grabs the TV remote.
“You’ll wrinkle your outfit,” Bisma warns.
“I don’t care,” Aleeza says, then quickly adjusts her kameez beneath her. “It doesn’t feel like Eid. Baba’s not here. We were supposed to leave for the party like an hour ago. And now we’re stuck at home, because people are coming over.”
“Your whining doesn’t make it any better,” I snap at her. She’s right that it’s been a pretty disappointing day so far. Baba had to fly out for an interview in Maryland early this morning, before the rest of us went to the mosque for prayers. It’s our first Eid without him, and everyone’s been on edge. But it’s only three o’clock in the afternoon. Maybe things will turn around.
“Come on, guys—it’s Eid,” Bisma pleads. “Can’t you be nice to each other today?”
“She should be nice. Jam’s always mean to me!” Aleeza shakes her finger at me, and her eyes fill up.
So much for things turning around. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: My youngest sister is spoiled rotten. Aleeza’s only ten, but that doesn’t stop her from bossing around Bisma, who’s a year older than her. And it doesn’t matter to her that I’m thirteen and in middle school. Aleeza doesn’t respect me like she should.
“Jameela!” Mama calls to me from the kitchen. “Can you go down and get the nice napkins? From the garage?”
“Okay.” I’d rather face the lizards in the garage than listen to Aleeza whine for a second longer. Ever since Bisma saw a baby gecko scamper along the walls and freaked out like it had escaped from Jurassic Park, I’m the only one of us girls who dares to go in there alone.
The air inside the garage is suffocating, which isn’t surprising, since it feels like five hundred degrees outside. This year Eid fell in August, the hottest month of the summer. Today also happens to be the kind of record-breaking scorcher of a day that earns Atlanta the nickname Hotlanta.
The jumbo pack of napkins is on a crowded shelf, next to a box marked “JAMEELA’S STUFF: PRIVATE!!!” where I’ve stored my old journals and collection of last year’s middle school newspapers. I was the only sixth grader who was an assistant editor and had an article in every issue of the paper, so I saved two copies of each. I resist the urge to carry the box inside so I can reread them, savoring each word like I want to.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot a lizard, frozen in place near the garage door opener. I decide it’s going to be the subject of a future article in the Mirza Memos, the family newspaper I’ve been writing since I was nine years old. Maybe I’ll research whether geckos have ever harmed humans, or how to get over the fear of creatures that resemble tiny alligators. If that includes hypnosis, I hope my sisters will let me try it out on them.
I make sure my box isn’t at risk of getting crushed by the endless stream of things that flow out of our town house into the garage. Then I grab a stack of napkins and head upstairs to the kitchen. Mama is arranging mini samosas on a platter, while Maryam cuts the raspberry bars she made into neat squares.
“Can you put those on the table with this fruit?” Mama’s brow furrows as she eyes the simple cotton shalwar kameez I threw on for Eid prayers earlier. “Aren’t you going to change into your new clothes?”
This morning I hit my snooze button over and over, which left no time to iron the bright green outfit with sparkly gold thread work I’d left crumpled on my floor after trying it on last week. All I needed was a big star on my head, and I would have looked exactly like a walking Christmas tree decorated with tinsel. But since Mama’s cousin in Pakistan had sent me the outfit, and because I knew it must have been expensive, I pretended to like it.
“Please say you will,” Maryam adds. My older sister is elegant in her silvery-gray outfit with black embroidery. Her makeup, perfected after hours of watching tutorials on YouTube, is flawless. She’s wearing a high bun, with wisps of loosened hairs that frame her cheekbones. As she bats her dark lashes at me, I squint at her, trying to tell if they’re fake. She looks older than fifteen, and is glamorous.
“It’s too hot for silk. Who’s coming over, anyway?” I tuck a curl that escaped my ponytail behind my ear and try not to think about how my rolled-out-of-bed look compares to Maryam’s. “Why do we need to impress them with fancy napkins?”
“Uncle Saeed. He’s bringing his nephew. I’m just trying to make it special for Eid,” Mama says.
I perk up when I hear “Uncle Saeed.” He’s Baba’s best friend, and our dentist. He’s always armed with corny jokes and free toothbrushes.
When the doorbell rings, my mother gives me a gentle shove.
“Go change your clothes, and fix your hair, please,” she urges. “There’s a big stain on your kameez.”
“It’s fine,” I say as I bound down the stairs for the door. “Uncle Saeed won’t care. I’ll change before the party.”
I throw the door open.
“Eid Mubarak!” Uncle Saeed declares. He’s holding a light blue box in his outstretched arms, and beads of sweat have already formed on his forehead. “Something sugary for the sweetest of days.” Uncle often speaks as if he’s quoting a Hallmark card.
“Eid Mubarak.” I take the box and scan the label. Yes! It’s from Sugar Kisses Bakery. Mama thinks it’s overpriced and refuses to take us there. But when I tried their salted-caramel cupcake at Kayla’s birthday party, it was literally one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. “Thank you! Come on in.”
“Oof. It’s too hot today. Eid Mubarak.” Farah Auntie manages a weak smile, but her nose wrinkles slightly when she scans my hair and outfit.
“Are you feeling okay?” she whispers before hugging me three times, enveloping me in the overpowering scent of her perfume. “Such simple clothes for Eid?”
“I’m great.” I brush off Auntie’s questions, since she’s always one to gently point out how I dress too plainly for parties. Or weddings. Or Eid. If I were wearing my tinsel-tree getup, I’m sure I’d hear “Oh mashallah, today you look nice,” no matter how uncomfortable or sweaty I felt. I’ve learned to let her and the other aunties comment about me, and then gush over Maryam. She puts enough effort into dressing up for both of us.
Uncle clears his throat.
“Jameela, this is my nephew, Ali, from London.”
A tall boy with curly hair steps out from behind his uncle. I don’t know anything about Pakistani fashion, but his crisp blue shalwar kameez with silver buttons isn’t like the plain beige- or tan-colored ones Baba and Uncle wear. That, along with the way he’s shielding his eyes from the bright light, makes it seem like he could be posing for the cover of my mom’s glossy South Asian lifestyle magazine, Libas. I almost want to laugh.
“Asalaamualaikum,” he says to me, extending his hand like a grown-up, although he can’t be much older than me. “Pleasure to meet you.” Ali’s accent is definitely British, and his voice is deeper than I expected it to be.
“Wa . . . waalaikum asalaam,” I stammer as his dark eyes pierce mine. Suddenly I have another vision of how disheveled I must appear, and my cheeks heat up from more than the hot sun. I offer a limp handshake, try to cover up the stain on my shirt by folding it over, and gesture toward the stairs.
“Come on in. It’s a lot cooler inside. Everyone’s upstairs,” I mumble. “I have to . . . um. I’ll be right back. I just have to change and um, get ready.”
Hena Khan offers middle-grade readers a modern story inspired by the classic novel Little Women. When a work contract takes their father overseas for six months, the Mirza sisters—Maryam, Jameela, Bizma, and Aleeza—find their lives changed unexpectedly. Jameela, an aspiring journalist, wants to find the perfect subject for her next school newspaper article: one that will make her father proud and position her to become senior editor next year. But when her latest story threatens to end a new friendship with Ali, a boy from England with a charming accent and sense of humor, and her beloved younger sister becomes dangerously ill, she discovers that there is more to the stories she wants to tell.
1. Describe the relationships that the Mirza siblings have with their parents and one another. Which sisters are the closest? Which sisters have conflicts? How does each sister relate to their mother and father? Explain the ways that the relationships in the book are similar to and different from relationships you have with your parents, siblings, or others you live with.
2. Why does Baba have to be away from home? Have you ever had to be separated from someone close to you, like a parent or sibling? What did you do to stay in touch? How did the distance affect your relationship?
3. How do the characters in this book encourage one another? Why do you think it’s important to support and encourage others?
4. Jameela says, “‘That’s why social media is messed up. It makes you worry about what you’re not doing, or lets everyone else know what they’re not doing. And then you can’t enjoy what you’re doing now.’” Explain why you agree or disagree with this statement. Can you identify any positive uses of social media in the book?
5. What advice does Jameela’s mother give her about handling her emotions? How does Jameela’s temper cause her trouble? Are you quick to show anger like Jameela, or do you have a different way of dealing with things that bother or upset you? What advice have people given to you?
6. Why is Jameela offended by Kenzie’s and Maureen’s comments that she’s good at archery because she’s “Indian”? Do you think Kenzie and Maureen were trying to be offensive? Do you think Jameela, Kenzie, and Maureen handled this situation correctly? How would you respond if you realized you had unintentionally offended or hurt someone’s feelings?
7. Jameela’s parents don’t want their daughters to worry about the family’s finances, so they try to protect them from finding out too much. Do you think parents or guardians should be open with their children about things like financial challenges, or is it better for them to keep these problems to themselves?
8. Why does Ali refuse to contribute to Jameela’s newspaper article about microaggressions? Why do you think he reacts the way he does when she tells him that she wants to change the focus of the article? How would you have handled the situation if you were Jameela?
9. Travis and Jameela have to work together on the school newspaper even though they disagree about many issues related to journalism. How do they learn to work together? How have you dealt with disagreements with a partner on a group project or other activity? Why is it important to work with people who have ideas that are different than yours?
10. What does Jameela help Ali realize about the reason he has given up playing soccer?
11. Why was it wrong for Jameela to include Ali’s anecdote in the article she published on microaggressions? In chapter thirty-five, Ms. Levy discusses the ethical rules of journalism with her students. Identify these rules and explain why each one is important.
12. Aleeza feels like she should be allowed to have a phone even though she is not yet thirteen, which is the age that Jameela and Maryam received their phones. Do you agree or disagree with her reasons for wanting a phone? How would you make an argument for receiving your first phone? What responsibilities come with having one? Explain your answers.
13. How does Bizma’s illness bring the Mirza family closer together? Why do you think it can sometimes be difficult to ask for help?
14. Do you think that Ali and Jameela feel the same way about each other? How do you know? Explain your answers.
15. Why does Jameela decide to shave her head? How do you think her gesture made Bizma feel?
16. Jameela’s article is about microaggressions, which are comments or actions based on stereotypes or prejudices that are intentionally or unintentionally insulting. The media often perpetuates stereotypes in the way it portrays people and communities. How does Hena Khan’s book challenge stereotypes about Muslim families? Why do you think books that challenge stereotypes are important?
17. One of Jameela’s characteristics that helps her to write well is her ability to view others with empathy. How does she demonstrate empathy toward Bizma? Why is empathy especially important for a journalist?
1. Jameela wants to publish a digital version of the paper rather than continuing to print paper copies. Work with a group to write and publish an edition of a class or family newspaper. Before you begin writing, debate and decide whether you want to publish a physical or digital newspaper, and the merits of both. Each group member should choose a story to write, keeping in mind Ms. Levy’s ethical rules of journalism. Make sure you’ve chosen diverse content in various styles and formats that showcases your group’s personalities!
2. Hena Khan’s novel is inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women. Read Alcott’s novel or watch a film adaptation of the book, and create a chart comparing characters and plot elements in More to the Story and Little Women. Does seeing the parallels give you a deeper understanding of any of Hena Khan’s characters or their motivations?
3. When Bizma is diagnosed with cancer, her friends and family create a support network for her. Research an organization or event that supports cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Some research possibilities include Relay for Life, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Light the Night, Rally for the Cure, CaringBridge, Beads of Courage, and Make a Wish Foundation. Deliver a presentation about the organization you’ve selected, including ideas about how you or your classmates can get involved. Why do you think communities like this are so important?
4. Research microaggressions, including what they are, why they matter, and how to avoid them. With your newfound knowledge, create an awareness campaign that encourages your school community to be mindful of the words they use. Develop a slogan, a poster image, and a call to action.
5. Jameela considers the role of English classes and an after-school writing club in fostering her love of journalism and her friendship with a fellow writer, Lily. Create your own piece of creative writing, inspired by More to the Story. You may want to write a short story that imagines where one or more of the characters will be five years after the end of the novel, or rewrite a scene in the book from a different character’s point of view. You may even want to try writing a contemporary retelling of a classic story.
6. One article that Jameela proposes for the paper is a debate about whether or not schools should ban football. Research this issue, and then divide into two groups for a class debate about this controversial topic.
7. Baba’s career takes him away from his daughters as he travels overseas with a short-term contract for work in Abu Dhabi. Locate Abu Dhabi on a map or globe and research some key locations and facts about Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then create a travel guide for Abu Dhabi that includes information about local currency, transportation, climate, places to see, food, and culture.
Guide prepared by Amy Jurskis, English Department Chair at Oxbridge Academy.
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.
Visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry for more resources and book information, and learn more about Hena Khan and her books at https://www.henakhan.com.
Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s Voice and More to the Story and picture books Golden Domesand Silver Lanterns, Under My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her basketball-loving family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at HenaKhan.com or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.
"A beautifully warm and deeply heartfelt story of sisters, family, and love that will move the reader from laughter to tears and to hopefulness. Inspired by Little Women, Khan's More to the Story is a brilliant tribute to the original that both modernizes and enriches the story..." (Ellen Oh, author of The Spirit Hunter Series)
“In More to the Story, Hena Khan depicts a family as American as chili and football, as Pakistani as samosas and Eid... It is a quiet tour de force, and a must-read for anyone wrestling with what it means to be American in this day and age.” (Adam Gidwitz, author of The Unicorn Rescue Society)
"More to the Story by Hena Khan is everything I could wish for in a modern interpretation of Little Women. The Mirza family is as endearing, funny, and loving as the March family, and I adored every word." (Karina Yan Glaser, author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street)
"[C]omfortingly familiar yet also entirely new, like an old friend given a makeover. The characters are believable and endearing, and their problems are emotionally weighty. The ways they find to support each other through difficulties, to fight, and to forgive highlight the reasons why Little Women still finds adoring fans...A delightful concept well executed, this volume is sure to find many fans."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Khan (Amina’s Voice) nimbly incorporates details of modern life and allusions to Alcott’s classic...into a tale that is, fittingly, strongest in the moments when family dynamics are on display."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In her latest novel, Khan (Amina's Voice, 2017) brings readers a charming take on Louisa May Alcott's 1868 classic, Little Women...Khan's homage to one of her favorite books growing up is engagingly written for a young and new generation...Like Little Women, this is a story that is sure to appeal to many."
"Khan tells the story of a modern-day Pakistani American family while retaining the charm, familial warmth, and appeal of Alcott’s classic."
– The Horn Book Magazine
"A positive and loving portrayal of a Muslim family."