Rummanah Aasi
I have fond memories of story-time as a kid, where my class would gather up close to listen and watch as the teacher and/or librarian would read picture books or other books aloud. While I student taught in elementary school, I always looked forward to reading to the kids. The best times were when you see how the kids are involved in the story and you could tease them about what would happen next. This year I'm taking a part in a picture book challenge hosted by Jennifer over at An Abundance of Books in hopes of finding some great reads and new favorite titles. I wanted to read some children literature that take place in the Middle East. It was difficult to find some that were fiction and not slanted in a political opinion, but I did manage to find some. I will be reviewing: The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox, Mirror by Jeannine Baker, and The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin.

Description: Maha's jealous stepmother makes her do all the housework while her selfish stepsister lazes about. There is no one to help or comfort her since Maha's father is away fishing. All that begins to change when Maha finds a magical red fish.

Review: There is something universal about fairy tales. The Golden Sandal is an Iraqi retelling of well known Cinderella story. The author does a great job in blending the familiar story with touches of the Iraqi culture that will be new for many Western readers. There are some big culture differences that may not make sense to kids who know the Disney's version of Cinderella, but they will be familiar with how unjustly Maha is treated and suprised as to how her evil step sister gets her dues in the end of the book. Hillenbrand's delicate, textured illustrations have the look of watered silk touched with glowing jewel-toned accents. The paintings integrate well with the text, which makes it an enchanting read. I'd definitely recommend this book for multicultural reads.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades K-3.

If you like this book try: Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-ling Louie, The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal by Paul Fleischman, Mufaro's Beautiful's Daughters by Joe Steptoe

Description: Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite unalike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. 

Review: I never read anything like Baker's Mirror before. I surely didn't expect to see a mostly wordless book that reveals two parallel wordless tales. I wasn't sure how to read it at first but I figured out that one is to be read left to right, the other right to left, I got over my confusion. The stories follow a day in the family life of two boys, who live in urban Australia and the Valley of Roses in southern Morocco. In layered, three-dimensional collages, Baker shows the differences between the families (traveling to an open-air market by donkey versus a trip to a hardware megastore in a car), but it is the underlying commonalities-helping parents, doing chores, caring for pets, sharing meals-that will resonate most with readers and reminding us all that we are actually in fact a lot similar than we think. My minor complaint about this book is that I would have liked a clear instruction on how to read the book before the story began instead of at the end.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Country Studies/Cultural Studies

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-4

If you like this book try: Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel

Description: In this retelling of a Persian folktale attributed to Jalaledin Rūmī , a parrot tricks a wealthy merchant into setting him free.

Review: The Secret Message was a surprising find and read. Though I've read very little by the Sufi poet Rumi, I have heard of his poem called The Parrot and the Merchant which is the basis for this story. In this vibrantly pictured and narration, a Persian merchant keeps a talking parrot that attracts crowds to his market store and locks up the incredibly gifted bird behind bars in a golden cage. When the merchant prepares for a buying trip to India, he kindly asks his pet what gift he might like from the place that had once been the parrot's home. What the bird wants most is just to let his family and friends know that he misses them and remembers their life together. When the merchant talks with the wild Indian parrots and tells them about his pet, which now lives in a beautiful cage, the birds play a trick that eventually sets the merchant's parrot free. Both the richly detailed scenes and story reversals will draw a young audience. The drawings reminded me much of Disney's Aladin. After finishing the book, I really wanted to hunt down the original poem and read more by Rumi.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1 and up.

If you like this book try: The Parrot by Laszlo and Raffaella Gal
4 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Mirror sounds a bit complicated! Not so much story-wise but format wise. I don't know that I would have figured out I had to read (or not as the case may be since you said it's mostly wordless) one story one way and the other a different way. Obviously it was successful though since you gave it a 4.5:)

  2. i love that your review these books. The second, Mirror sounds so different and unique than what you normally get. Do you think it is confusing for a young child?

  3. @Jenny: I totally didn't expect to see two flaps. At first I thought I was suppose to read the one first and then the second. Glad I took the chance and read them side by side.

    @Heidi: I'm not sure if they'd appreciate what the book is trying to do if they read it on their own.

  4. Wow, all of these sound good. I think Golden Sandal and Mirror sound best. Thanks for introducing new books to me!

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