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Zara's Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

Book #1 of Zara's Rules
Illustrated by Wastana Haikal


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About The Book

From the beloved author of Amina’s Voice comes the first book in a humor-filled middle grade series starring a young Muslim girl with an endless list of hobbies who searches for ways to maximize fun for her family and neighborhood friends.

Meet Zara Saleem, the queen of the neighborhood.

Zara’s in charge of it all: she organizes the games, picks the teams, and makes sure everyone has a good time…and they always do.

When a new family moves in across the street, suddenly Zara’​s reign is threatened by Naomi, who has big ideas of her own about how the neighborhood kids can have fun. To get everyone to notice her again, Zara decides she’s going to break a Guinness World Record—if her little brother Zayd doesn’t mess things up.

But when she finds herself increasingly alone in her record-breaking quest, Zara starts to wonder if sharing the crown and making a new friend might end up being the best rule of all.


Chapter 1


“Someone’s going inside!” Zayd yells, his face smooshed against the glass of the front window.

“Is it a family?” Mama rushes over from the kitchen, still holding the head of lettuce she was shredding.

I squeeze next to them to peek through the curtains. We watch an elegant older woman in a suit and heels walk past the FOR SALE sign to the entrance of Mr. Chapman’s house.

“I think that’s the agent,” Mama whispers, as if the lady might hear us from across the street.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Zara's Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

By Hena Khan

About This Book

Zara Saleem enjoys being known as the Queen of the Neighborhood: the person who comes up with the best ideas and makes sure everyone has fun. Things change when a new family moves in and Zara finds her role challenged by the popularity of the new girl, Naomi. Worried that her friends are forgetting her, Zara decides that the way to win back their loyalty is to break one of the records in her uncle’s old Guinness Book of World Records. It takes several failed attempts for her to realize that cooperation, not competition, is the way to be a true leader, and that sharing her crown is much more fun than ruling alone.

Before You Read

Discuss the differences between a leader and a ruler, paying attention to the verb at the root of each word (lead and rule). Think of an example of someone you believe is a good ruler and/or leader. What qualities are important in a ruler? What qualities are important in a leader? Is it possible to be a ruler and a leader at the same time?

Discussion Questions

1. Mr. Chapman nicknames Zara the “Queen of the Neighborhood” because she rules “with grace and fairness.” What do you think it means to rule with grace and fairness? Why do you think this nickname means so much to Zara?

2. When Zara and Zayd’s neighbor Mr. Chapman moves to Florida, they eagerly anticipate the arrival of a new neighbor. What kind of neighbor do they hope moves in? What kind of neighbor are they worried they might get? (See chapter 1.) Imagine what your perfect neighbor would be like and describe them.

3. Initially, Zara views Naomi as her competition. Why does she view Naomi as a threat? Do you think Naomi is trying to exclude Zara? How does the fact that Zara thinks Naomi is competing with her impact the way she interacts with her new neighbor? What do you think would have happened if Zara had not been worried about Naomi taking her place as the Queen of the Neighborhood?

4. Zara believes that Gloria and Jade “were so quick to ditch me and pick Naomi.” Why do you think Zara felt excluded? Find evidence that suggests that Zara’s perception was inaccurate, and that Gloria, Jade, and Naomi tried to include Zara.

5. Why does Zara want to try to break a Guinness World Record? What does she believe will happen if she is successful?

6. What challenges does Zara encounter as she tries to break the world records for using a hula hoop, chalk drawing, and tap dancing?

7. Describe Zara’s family. How can you tell that the Saleem family cares about and values one another? How can you tell that Zara and Zayd have a close relationship? (See chapter 8.)

8. What causes the conflict between Zara and her little brother? Why are they able to repair their relationship? Think about a time that you had a conflict with a sibling or a friend. How did you resolve the conflict?

9. Why doesn’t Zara tell her friends that she is trying to break a record? What happens when they eventually find out? What does Zara realize about including others and friendship?

10. When Jade complains that Zara has “a million rules for every game we play,” Zara responds by saying, “I make rules so we don’t fight.” Whom do you agree with, Zara or Jade? How could Zara and Jade balance the need for rules with a desire for freedom from rules?

11. Later in the book, Zara realizes that she has made mistakes in the way she reacted to Naomi’s arrival: “And it hits me that I might have brought cookies over to welcome her family on the day they moved in, but I have not been very welcoming ever since.” What does it mean to be welcoming? What specific things could Zara have done differently?

12. What does Zara mean when she reflects: “I realize I’m sharing the crown. But, surprisingly, it makes me feel a lot lighter than I expected.” (See chapter 14). Think about an area of your life where you are a leader. How can you “share your crown” with others? What do you think might happen if you do?

Extension Activities

1. When the Goldsteins move in, Mrs. Saleem bakes a plate of nankhatai: traditional Pakistani cookies. Mrs. Goldstein reciprocates with a plate of rugelach: traditional Jewish cookies. Food is an important element of cultural identity, and most cultures and nationalities have a special type of cookie, pastry, or other sweet treat. Research a culture or nationality, and share a recipe for their traditional cookie or pastry, or other hand-held dessert. You may want to create a cooking video demonstrating how to make the cookie. You can also work with your classmates to create an international cookie cookbook or international cookie celebration.

2. After mishaps caused Zara to abandon her attempts at the world records for tap dancing and chalk drawing, she makes a plan and tries to prepare for her next record-breaking attempt. Later she realizes that there are rules and guidelines for attempting to break an official world record and documenting your attempt. Working either alone or with a group, research Guinness World Records ( If you wanted to break one of the current world records, which would you choose? Develop a step-by-step plan that you would need to follow in order to break the record.

3. Zara’s grandparents are from Pakistan, and the Saleem family include aspects of Pakistani culture including language (Urdu, chapter 3), holidays (Eid, chapter 17), food (halal, chapter six; biryani, chapter 16; korma, chapter 17), and music (bhangra, chapter 9) into their family life. Research one aspect of Pakistani culture mentioned in the book to learn more about its origin. Create a visual (such as a poster, brochure) to share your research with the class.

4. Zara and her friends decide to create the Brisk River Book of Neighborhood Records: their own version of the Guinness Book of World Records (chapter 18). Using their book as a guide, work together to create a book of classroom records, and celebrate your achievements with an awards ceremony.

5. One of the things that helps Zara resolve conflict is trying to imagine the situation from the other person’s perspective. Choose a section of the book and rewrite it from another character’s perspective. For example, you could imagine Zara and Naomi’s first meeting from Naomi’s perspective (chapter 2) or Zayd’s bicycle accident (chapter 10) from Zayd’s perspective.

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 (April 19, 2022)
  • Length: 144 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534497580
  • Ages: 7 - 10

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Awards and Honors

  • Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee (IN)
  • NCTE Charlotte Huck Outstanding Fiction Honor Title

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More books from this author: Hena Khan

More books from this illustrator: Wastana Haikal

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