Skip to Main Content

Zara's Rules for Living Your Best Life

Book #3 of Zara's Rules
Illustrated by Wastana Haikal


See More Retailers

About The Book

From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes the third book in the charming middle grade Zara’s Rules series following Zara as she tries to save her spring break!

It’s spring break and Zara and Naomi have big plans…until Zara finds out that Naomi’s parents are sending her to camp and Zara and Zayd are going to spend the week with their grandparents. Zara’s pretty sure it’s a rule that spring break is supposed to be full of fun and adventure—not doing chores for Naano and watching Nana Abu doze on the couch! But ever since Nana Abu retired, it seems all he wants to do is eat and sleep, and Zara’s worried their grandfather has lost his mojo.

Meanwhile, Naomi’s having a blast at her day camp. Since Zara can’t join her, can Zara find a way to bring the fun of camp to her grandparents’ home? With a little help from Zayd, Zara concocts a plan that just might save her vacation—and help her grandfather start living his best life.


Chapter 1

Chapter 1
“How about a marble roller coaster?” Naomi suggests from her stool, where she’s swinging her legs back and forth.

“Yes!” Zayd cheers, before suddenly frowning and adding, “Wait. What’s that?”

We can’t help but laugh at my little brother, who has snuck into our clubhouse to listen to our conversation. Again.

“It’s a roller coaster for a marble,” Naomi explains. “You use stuff like foam and cardboard and make loops and hills to see how far you can get the marble to go.”

I ponder this as I bite into a sugar cookie, one of the snacks Naomi brought for us today. A marble roller coaster sounds less exciting than a real one. But it could still be fun to make. And if it turns out well, we could add it to the Brisk River Book of Neighborhood Records under “Most Amazing Marble Roller Coaster.”

“Let’s add it to the list,” I say.

Our list of “Things To Do Over Spring Break” is getting long already. Yesterday Jade added weaving friendship bracelets out of recycled plastic. Gloria wants to make homemade paletas, frozen fruity treats that she insists are better than flavored ice sticks. Alan said he’s going to organize an “epic” Easter egg hunt. That gave Jade the idea to add decorating eggs to the list. And since Zayd is still deciding what he wants us all to do together over break, I left the space for number five blank for him. Melvin is traveling to Korea over break, so his ideas for things to do aren’t on the list. And although Naomi’s brother, Michael, hasn’t come up with any suggestions yet, I know he’ll have something to say about everything we do. He’s in eighth grade already and has lots of opinions.

I write “marble roller coaster” on the whiteboard and stand back to admire the list. There’s no way this isn’t going to be the best spring break ever. None of the kids on our street can complain that we aren’t doing something that they want. We’ve included everyone, which is the number one neighborhood rule for having fun. And all the activities sound like they could be a good—and even delicious—time.

“What supplies do we need?” Naomi asks. “Let’s make sure we get everything ahead of time. We don’t want another piñata situation.”

I groan. Last summer we made a huge batch of glue mixture to craft a homemade piñata shaped like a strawberry. We followed step-by-step instructions from a video on YouTube. But since we didn’t have any balloons, we used an old beach ball and layered the newspaper, glue, and tissue on top of it. It looked seriously amazing when we were finished. You’re supposed to pop the balloon and take it out of the piñata when the glue is dry, and then you can put the candy inside. But the beach ball wouldn’t pop no matter what we did, so we couldn’t get to that step. Michael ended up shaking the bag of candy out around the yard instead. The candy flew everywhere, and everyone dove onto the grass and fought each other for it. Months later Melvin found a mini Tootsie Pop over by his garage.

“We’ll get all the things we need!” I promise. “It’s not that much. Except for maybe the roller coaster foam. And the eggs. And Popsicle sticks. But we still have a few days before break.”

“I’ll ask my mom if she can help us,” Naomi offers.

I already know that Mrs. Goldstein is ready to help. She has an entire cabinet full of crafting supplies. It’s like she’s just waiting for us to ask her for pipe cleaners or tissue paper or googly eyes. My mom’s answer when I ask her for stuff is usually “Check the garage,” but you’d be surprised by all the useful things I’ve managed to dig out of there.

“Let’s ask her now,” Naomi says. “And I want to get a drink.”

“Let’s go, Zayd,” I tell my brother. “Wipe up your crumbs, okay?”

The last thing we need is for Zayd to dirty up the clubhouse after we spent a whole hour spring cleaning it over the weekend. It’s looking great now that we swept out all the dead leaves and grass, dusted it, and wiped down the stools. We’ve got the whiteboard and our book of records in there, along with tennis balls and jump ropes. After our stools and a tiny tray table for snacks, there’s not much room for anything else. But it’s still the perfect place to make plans, hide out, and take a break from the sun. And it was one of Naomi’s best ideas ever to turn the old toolshed in her backyard into our fun-making headquarters.

“Hey, Mom?” Naomi asks as we head into her house and Zayd trots back across the street to our house. “Can you help us with supplies?”

“For what, honey?” Mrs. Goldstein asks. She’s in the kitchen, chopping up herbs and throwing them into a bowl.

“For all the activities we planned for spring break,” Naomi explains. “We need foam, Popsicle sticks, tape, and what else was there, Zara?”

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

Zara’s Rules for Living Your Best Life

By Hena Khan

About the Book

In Zara’s Rules for Living Your Best Life, Hena Khan presents the third installment in a series about Zara Saleem, a girl who approaches life by creating plans and rules to solve any problem she encounters. In this case, the problem is a spring break that seems doomed to failure when her mother informs her that she and her brother will have to spend each day with their grandparents instead of their neighborhood friends. To make matters worse, Zara’s once energetic grandfather is staying in his pajamas watching television and napping all day now that he has retired. The solution is clear: she needs to get them active and engaged in activities they enjoy. To help her grandparents live their best lives, she’ll need to create Camp Zara.

Discussion Questions

1. Where would you travel to if you could plan your perfect spring break? What would you want to do if you planned your ideal spring break but had to stay at home?

2. Zara’s “number one neighborhood rule for having fun” is that everybody must be included. Why would including everyone make things more fun? What challenges might there be to including everyone in an activity? How could you creatively solve those challenges?

3. Zara is disappointed to learn she won’t be able to spend spring break with her friends. Her mother explains that she will be allowed to stay home alone when she is twelve. Most states do not have a law stating the recommended age for a child to stay home unsupervised, and those that do list ages ranging from six to fourteen. Discuss what you think is the right age to be allowed to stay home alone. Explain the reasons for your answer.

4. When Zara and Zayd arrive, Naano has their favorite breakfast foods, like parathas and halwa, prepared. When you visit family members, are there particular foods or treats they like to serve? Why do you think food is a common way for people to express their love?

5. Describe Zara and Zayd’s first day with their grandparents. What is disappointing about the day? What causes Zara to be concerned about her grandfather, Nana Abu?

6. When Naomi tells Zara about all the fun things she is doing in day camp, how does Zara respond? Do you think it was hard for her not to be jealous? What idea did Zara come up with by listening to Naomi and being happy for her?

7. Consider Zara’s Rules for Camp Zara. (Chapter six) Explain why each rule would be important. Would you change or add anything to these rules?

8. After the first day of Camp Zara has limited success, who does Zara call for help? Who is the trusted adult that you can call on when you need help or advice about a challenge you’re facing?

9. In chapter ten, Naomi tells Zara about her bad experience on the zip line at camp. How does she plan to confront and overcome her fear and anxiety? Describe an experience where you were afraid to do something or tried something new. How did you feel before you tried this new thing, and were you able to complete the activity? How did you learn to navigate your fear and discomfort?

10. What does Zara realize about her grandfather’s interests and skills during their high tea celebration? What idea does this give her?

11. What does Zara call “the best day of spring break so far”? (Chapter fourteen) What made this such a good day?

12. Explain how Nana Abu’s birdhouse leads to his family learning about the Senior Center. Why do you think Nana Abu and Naano are hesitant about visiting the Senior Center? How does Zara help them overcome their hesitancy?

13. Naano and Nana Abu take Zayd and Zara to the masjid, or mosque, for Jumuah prayers. In Islam, Friday prayers are communal, meaning people come together to pray and worship. Early in chapter seventeen, Zara describes their visit to the mosque with her grandparents. In addition to prayers, what else happens while she is there? Why do you think communal activities, where people come together and meet in person, are important?

14. What helps Naano and Nana Abu feel comfortable at the Senior Center? What can this teach you about helping people feel like they belong and are needed?

15. What would Nana Abu and Naano’s life have been like if Zara and Zayd had not stayed with them over spring break? What do Naano and Nana Abu learn from their grandchildren? What did Zara and Zayd learn from their grandparents?

Extension Activities

1. Zara’s Rules for Living Your Best Life begins with Naomi suggesting building a marble roller coaster as a spring break activity. Rube Goldberg is an artist and inventor whose creations have inspired Rube Goldberg competitions that involve using everyday materials (like marbles) to build elaborate machines. Read more about Rube Goldberg here (, then work with a team to create your own Rube Goldberg machine.

2. In chapter one, Hena Khan describes the neighborhood clubhouse, which the children made from a converted toolshed. Design your own ideal clubhouse by creating a floor plan of the space. The Glazer Children’s Museum has a short video that explains the basics of floorplan design: What would you include in your clubhouse, and why? Who would be invited, and what would you do in your clubhouse?

3. Naano and Nana Abu sometimes speak Urdu, the language they spoke in Pakistan. While Zara does not speak Urdu, she says, “I understand Naano well enough to figure out she’s saying something like, ‘I'll show you fun.’” (Chapter four) Make a list of all the Urdu words and phrases you find in the book and create an Urdu-to-English dictionary. First, use context clues to guess what the words mean, and then look up the translation to see if you are correct.

4. Naano teaches Zara and Zayd to play a card game from Pakistan called Rung, or Court Piece. (Chapter five) Research Pakistani children’s games and pastimes to discover new things to play with your friends. Start by looking up instructions for how to play Rung. There are even sites that let you play online!

5. As an activity for Zara and Zayd, Naano plans a high tea. High tea is a tradition in many parts of the world. Originating in England, it is popular in countries including America, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and even Dubai. Research the rules of etiquette, menus, and traditions that afternoon tea celebrations have in common, then work with your friends or classmates to plan a special afternoon tea celebration.

6. Most communities have at least one senior center. Brainstorm ways that your class can connect with your local senior center. You can send cards or letters to celebrate holidays, help with a service project, or learn more about a previous decade via Zoom or in person with a senior.

7. Find out more about your family history by interviewing an older family member or person in your life. Find out what their interests are and ask about their favorite memories. Then write an essay about the person that you interviewed. At the end of the essay, answer this question: “If you could spend one day doing any activity with your person, what would you want to do and why?”

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.

About The Author

Photo (c) Havar Espedal

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series 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 or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

About The Illustrator

Product Details

  • Publisher: Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (March 21, 2023)
  • Length: 144 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534497641
  • Ages: 7 - 10

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Hena Khan

More books from this illustrator: Wastana Haikal

More books in this series: Zara's Rules