Rummanah Aasi
  I'm having a great time reading and discoveirng new picture books for my picture book challenge, which is hosted by Jennifer over at An Abundance of Books. 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: Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! by Margaret Read Macdonald, Mystery Bottle by Kristin Balouch, Silent Music by James Rumford, and Joha Makes a Wish by Eric Kimmel.

Description: A childless woman's prayers are answered by the arrival of a talking pot, but the new mother knows that Little Pot must learn right from wrong just like any child.

Review: Based on a Palestinian tale, a woman wishes for a child to love, even if it is nothing more than a cooking pot. Her wish comes true, and red Little Pot appears. The two spend some quality time indoors, but the Little Pot grows restless and years to explore the outside world. Reluctantly, the mother lets her pot outdoors, and Little Pots adventures and troubles begin. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. There's plenty of repetitive phrases and lots of action to keep an audience's attention. The vibrant illustrations with clear influence on Islamic art fill the pages; however, I found myself a bit lost on the cultural detail in the story. There are also some heavy messages of right and wrong behavior, but overall I enjoyed it. I think it would be interesting to pair this one with multicultural variations of the Gingerbread Man stories.

Rating: 3 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades Preschool to Grade 2.

If you like this book try: The Man With Bad Manners by Idries Shah,

Description: What happens when a boy and his grandfather are separated from each other by borders, politics, and distance? The mystery bottle unites the two through an extraordinary gift. The bond of their love.

Review: I loved the concept behind Balouch's Mystery Bottle. The first intriguing image is found on the book jacket, which features a picture of a bottle with a rolled map plugging the opening. We know we are going on a journey with the boy on the cover. The bottle arrives in a package; when the boy removes the map, wind blows out of the bottle, whisking him across the sea and through the city where his grandfather, Baba Bazorg, now resides. Together they spend time and the grandfather explains that can still have a relationship even though they are thousands of miles away. I would have liked a bit more clarification and exploration of the country which the boy travels to and from (according to the book's blurb it's Iran). have tea, and the grandfather explains how, whenever the boy wants a cup of tea, he can open the bottle and be carried back to him. I'm not entirely sure if kids would grasp the deeper meaning behind this book, but I think it would make a good discussion. The artwork, which can be a bit crowded, is striking and unique. It combines simple, cut-paper shapes, collage, and stamp art, set against maps charting the boy's adventures.

Rating: 3 stars

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

If you like this book try: Landed by Milly Lee

Description: As bombs and missiles fall on Baghdad in 2003, a young boy uses the art of calligraphy to distance himself from the horror of war.

Review: Silent Music is a beautiful book that brings hope and light behind the back drops of war torn Iraq. Ali is a simple boy who loves soccer, music, and above all calligraphy-forming the elegant Arabic letters, pen that move along to the silent music he hears in his head. Ali tells us that his secret hero is the famous artist Yakut, a renowned 13th-century calligrapher who is said to have fled to a high tower to shut out the violence by the Mongol invasion at Baghdad in 1258. Like his hero, Ali also escapes from war and seeks solace from the missiles and bombs that falls on Baghdad in 2003. The effects of war on Ali is subtle yet profound. The Arabic word for war, Harb, comes easily to his pen, while he struggles to perfect Salam, the word for peace.
I absolutely loved the art work in this book. The jewel-toned illustrations are made with pencil, charcoal, and computer art programs. Ali and his family are depicted with warmth and personality, and their interactions add intimacy to the story, much like our own. Elaborately detailed designs appear throughout the book. It's clear that the illustrator is well aware of Islamic art from intricate tile arrangements, delicate floral motifs, and colorfully patterned clothing. Like the text, there are subtle images of war (army vehicles, helicopters, etc) that are striking with dark colors. I also loved how the the Arabic language adorns the pages as well as teaches the reader some new words. I highly recommend picking this up book.

Rating: 5 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 to 6.

If you like this book try: The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winters, The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman

Description: An original story, based on the Joha tales of the Arabic-speaking world, in which a hapless man finds a wishing stick that brings him nothing but bad luck. Includes an author's note about the history of Joha tales.

Review: Joha Makes a Wish is a laugh out funny folk tale from the Middle East. Kimmel recasts a Jewish tale from Yemen, and borrows story elements from widespread Middle Eastern folklore featuring the foolish wise man, aka Nasreddin Hodja. Kimmel's introductory note which gives us a little background to the story doesn't really explain his choice of using a lesser known name of Joha for his story, but that doesn't detract anything from the delightful story.
One day Joha finds a wishing stick. Everything he wishes for gets reversed. For example, he wishes for a new pair of shows, but instead his shoes disappear entirely. In spite of Joha's angry efforts to rid himself of the troublesome stick, it tightly adheres to his hand, causing much worse trouble when he encounters the sultan in the streets of Baghdad. Kimmel's well-paced text smoothly builds events and dialogue, leaving the character interpretation to the comic portrayals in Rayyan's energetic watercolor drawings. The character's physical features are exaggerated for comic effect. Joha is a small man with large hands and feet and a long, thin expressive face beneath a generous turban. His frayed sandals and patched trousers contrast with the splendor of the robust sultan and his armored guards. I don't know for sure if Joha's misadventures in this book are true to the original folklore or cultural roots, but I do know that this book will promise a great read along as the underdog outsmarts those who are powerful.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Recommended for Grades 1 to 6.

If you like this book try: The King's Taster by Kenneth Oppel, The Queen's Feet by Sarah Ellis
5 Responses
  1. Oh I may have to read Silent Music for myself! Great choices!

  2. Tunjur sounds really interesting. Have you read the Snow Child. It's a similar idea. It's an adult book but about a couple who so wants a child that they fashion one out of snow and it comes to life. It's a Russian fairy tale.

  3. Unknown Says:

    Great review! New follower :)

    Cierra @ Blogovation Design

  4. These sound great! I'd love to see the artwork in Silent Music and Mystery Bottle. They both sound so beautiful and different. It does seem like the concept behind Mystery Bottle would be lost on the intended age group, but who knows, they are getting smarter every day!

    Thanks for the review of these picture books!


  5. Joha Makes a Wish sounds hilarious, Rummanah. Folk tales from other cultures are always fun to read. I'm going to see if it's available at my library so I can share it with my brother. I'm sure he'll like it too.

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