Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale from Medieval Spain by Jacqueline Jules illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

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I love when tales from the past provide timeless lessons in relevant ways.  Inspired by a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, a royal advisor in Muslim Grenada, Jules creates a story that works for children of all ages and backgrounds.

The Grand Vizier’s son, Samuel, bumps into the tax collector’s son, Hamza, and the boys don’t rub each other the right way.  Later that day, Samuel spills his drink on Hamza and can’t convince him both were accidents.  Hamza calls Samuel some mean names and storms off.  Samuel and his father think the name calling is uncalled for, but the vizier does not solve his son’s problem and instead assigns him to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to you again.”  Samuel imagines ways to teach Hamza a lesson or punish him, but some ideas are too complicated and some just silly.  This is proving to be a hard task.  The next day Samuel shows up to Hamza’s house with a lemon.  He thinks forcing Hamza to eat it is a good punishment for a mean mouth, however Hamza thinks the lemon is to help with the stain that ruined his clothes, and tells him his mother already tried that.  Caught off guard by Hamza’s reaction, the two somehow end up playing catch with the lemon and enjoying the afternoon together.  The next day he shows up to Hamza’s house with ink and paper thinking he will make Hamza write him an apology.  Hamza however, thought Samuel showed up to draw, and once again the boys enjoy an afternoon together.  This carries on until the boys are so used to seeing each other and having fun together, they become friends.  Samuel fears that he disobeyed his father and did not handle Hamza only to realize that by befriending his “enemy” he did in fact make sure Hamza never said a mean word again.

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The book is 32 pages with an Author’s Note about the real life events that the story draws upon.  The book is not AR, but the large bold typeface and the warm simple pictures make this book work great for story time with young children.  It compliments themes about bullying and making friends as well as being silly.  It works well for third graders and older ones too, as they might understand people of different faiths struggling to get along or people of different socio-economic classes, or even just imaging how they would solve a problem without their parents doing it for them.  I was pleasantly surprised by the book and how it handled the Muslim/Jew staging of the characters.  Especially right now in today’s world, this story has a poignant lesson for us all. If we all spent time together having fun, we too could end up being friends, or at least getting along.  I think the story and its lessons have merit and relevance, and thus a place on the bookshelf.

 

 

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