Tag Archives: folk tale

The Butter Man by Elizabeth and Ali Alalou illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli

The Butter Man by Elizabeth and Ali Alalou illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli

butter man

This 32 page book written on an AR 4.2 is very text heavy and poorly illustrated, in my opinion, but if you have a patient audience, the story is really sweet and flows pretty well.  Plus, the moral and introduction to 4th through 6th graders about hunger and food scarcity in a gentle non condescending manner, makes the book stay with the reader in a humbling way.

On Saturdays, Mama works and its just Nora and her baba hanging out.  And every Saturday night, Nora’s baba makes couscous, but tonight Nora is starving and the couscous is taking too long.  As they wait Baba tells her a story about the butter man.


Growing up in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, how much food the family had depended on the rain and the crops.  Once during a drought, Nora’s grandfather had to leave his family to try and find work, so the family could eat.  As the portions of bread Nora’s baba was given decreased in size and the butter disappeared completely, his mother would urge him to go outside and wait for the butter man, to ask him to spare a little.  As he would sit and wait he would nibble and the bread and would finish it still waiting for the butter man.  This daily ritual passed the time as his stomach rumbled, and finally after a while his father returned with flour, couscous, vegetables, and meat.  Baba tells Nora that while the butter man never came, the rains did.  And just as Nora hopefully appreciates true hunger, so does the reader, Mama then comes home, the couscous is ready, they say Bismillah and dive in.

butter.jpgThe only real Islamic reference is Bismillah, being said before they eat.  The story is followed by an Author’s note and a much needed Glossary.  A bit of Moroccan culture comes through as the baba waits for the butter man, and with all the talk of food, but it isn’t done well for me in the illustrations.  The characters’ closeups are distracting, and while the Author’s note explains their clothing and what not, I feel like they didn’t help the story come to life.

Here is a book trailer:



The Silly Chicken by Idries Shah illustrated by Jeff Jackson



This story reads wonderfully aloud as it is silly, repetitive, and the message is more clear than in some of Idries Shah’s other Sufi inspired teaching books.  Written on an AR 4.0 level with 32 pages.  Some pages are heavily text laden while others just sprinkle a few words across a beautifully illustrated page.  Like his other books, the illustrations are truly spot on.  The lively faces on the characters, and colorful scenes bring the story to life and keep the audience engaged and giggling.


A man decides to learn how to speak “chicken,” when that doesn’t work, he teaches the chicken to speak our kind of language.  Fluent and conversational, the chicken then tells the villagers that, “The earth is going to swallow us up!”.  Everyone runs in all directions, up the mountain, down the mountain, across the meadow, around the world, but they can never get away from the earth.  When they return, they are upset with the chicken and ask how he knows that the earth is going to swallow them up, to which he replies that he doesn’t.  After they recap all the trouble he has put them through he poignantly laughs at them and asks, ” You think a chicken knows something just because he can talk?” Realizing how foolish they have been the chicken begins telling more outlandish things, just to make the people laugh, and isn’t taken seriously again.

silly chicken1

The message is clear, the characters funny, and the illustrations engaging. I finally found an Idries Shah book that I like! Yay, I guess for me they are hit or miss, and this one was definitely a hit!


The Boy Without A Name by Idries Shah illustrated by Mona Caron

The Boy Without A Name by Idries Shah illustrated by Mona Caron


It is hard to know what a child would get out of this 32 page 3.2 AR level, but even if they just get lost in the pictures, and swept away by the idea of a boy searching for his name and a dream, I suppose there is value.  Some, ok most of Idries Shah’s, Sufi teaching stories are beyond my comprehension, but they are lyrical and often silly just the same. He has written over 30 and the libraries have quite a few, and people online seem to love so many of them, so perhaps I’m just not clever enough or philosophical enough to grasp them.  Which is neither here nor there, but maybe don’t buy one until you read one and see what you get out of them.  I keep checking them out and hoping I too will fall in love with one, I’ll keep you posted.

no name1

Before they can name their son an old man comes and tells the parents to not name him and to wait.  The boy grows up searching for a name, hoping someone has one he can have.  At one point he is made aware that he has nothing, even to trade for a name.  He responds that he has an old dream he no longer wants.  He and his friend Anwar then go to the wise man and he receives his name and a new dream.

The synopsis claims that patience and determination is learned, but I couldn’t get over the fact that the parents just didn’t name their child, and I never felt like I learned why he was such an important boy.


The pictures are wonderful with the scenic village’s tall minarets and colorful hijab clad women in the market place.  I particularly like the magic spilling out of the boxes in the old man’s house when the boys are finding names and dreams.  There is nothing overtly Islamic in the text, I’m not aware of how strong the Sufi origin is, not being Sufi, or having studied it.  But the illustrations definitely place the book in an Islamic cultural environment and the names reinforce this.


Tales of Nasreddin Hodja: The Parrot and the Turkey prepared by Gamze Alici illustrated by Sinem Zengincelebi


img_2803I ordered this book a while ago online.  There is a whole series of Nasreddin Hodja, so I picked a title at random.  I read it when it arrived and the story seemed to wander more than my attention span could follow.  So naturally,  I had my children read it, and they said it seemed funny, but they didn’t understand it.  I glanced through it again and figured maybe it was one of those beloved cultural characters that just lost some of their charm in translation.  In this case, Nasreddin Hodja is a folktale type character born in the 13th century from Konya, Turkey, who is the star of short stories that teach a point in a silly way.  The opening page tells a bit about him and what you can hope to learn in the story, but it didn’t help understand why the book was so fragmented.


In my latest move, I found the book again, read it again, and was stumped again. But luckily this time I contacted a Turkish friend instead of putting it back on the shelf and realized this book does not do Nasreddin Hodja justice, he is a hoot.  The book, not so much.

So first, a review of the book.  The book is beautiful and fun to look at.  The colorful glossy pages and clear font invite readers between ages 6-9 to read it and younger kids to have the story read to them.  The illustrations are delightful and after hearing about Nasreddin Hodja I think they convey his silly, yet wise persona.

Unfortunately the story is long.  At 32 pages with a fair amount of text on each page the author seems to try and take three tales and connect them into one coherent story.  The result is an abundance of detail that doesn’t move the story to his poignant conclusion and instead results in unresolved tangents.  For example in the first part of the story, he goes to the market to buy a few things for an alfresco breakfast with his wife.  Along the way he stops at a fountain to drink some water, he then begins shopping and after listing off dozens of vegetables and fruits, and details how he buys each item and what season they come from, he gets to his commentary of how silly a man selling a parrot for a ton of money is.  He then returns home to get his turkey to make the point to the parrot vendor that if he is asking 50 pieces of silver for a parrot that can talk, he will sell his turkey who can think for 100 pieces of silver.

This story covers about 17 pages of the book, but the same tale as told on the website http://www.readliterature.com/hodjastories.htm is only a few short sentences.


One day The Hodja was walking around in the market place. He saw a bright-coloured bird for sale for 12 gold coins. Hodja was amazed. He approached the crowd gathered around the bird and its seller.

How can a bird be so expensive?’ he asked the people watching the bird.

This is a special bird,’ they explained, `it can talk like a human being!’

This gave Hodja an idea. He went straight to his home, grabbed his turkey and brought him to the market place. He stood near the man selling the parrot.

Turkey, for sale, ten gold coins!’ he yelled.

Hodja Effendi, how can a turkey be worth ten gold coins?’ the shoppers protested.

There is a bird there for 12 gold.’ insisted the adamant Hodja.

But Hodja Effendi, that bird can talk like a human being.’ the people tried to reason. But Hodja was unbending.

And this turkey can think like a human being.’ he countered.

Obviously I can understand what the writer was trying to do. But, unfortunately it doesn’t work.  Mina Javaherbin did something similar when retelling Rumi’s poems in children’s book form, but she had better luck.  Perhaps if the author would have kept them shorter and not embellished them to teach so many lessons about vocabulary and seasons and colors it would have actually had a begining, middle and end.  Early readers will find the pages over bearing and fluid readers will see the holes in the narrative.  Perhaps if each story were only a few pages there would have been a plot and take-away-lesson. Unfortunately as written Hodja’s message gets lost and the reader takes very little if anything away from the book.

When you research some of Nasreddin Hodja’s stories they are fun, and it becomes easy to see why children (according to my friend) dress up as him in school and he is quoted and referenced so widely and lovingly.  His stories work well in an oral tradition, obviously, and if you follow my mother’s advice (a preschool teacher for a few dozen years) and “tell” a story to little kids instead of “read” it, this book can get some use.  In story time with 3 to 5 year olds showing the pictures and talking about what is going on, on each page before winding around to the point allows them to to interact with the pictures and story and the reader to impart some of this beloved characters insight on to the audience.


Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey by James Rumford


calabsh cat

We stumbled on this book at the library and got excited when we saw that it is written in both English and Arabic.  It isn’t a book that has been translated, the author wrote it in both the Arabic dialect of Chad and English.  The Arabic script compliments the artistic style of designs burned on a calabash gourd. The simplistic contrasting color illustrations, force the reader/ listener to give life to the folktale style story.  I debated on whether to review it here on the blog being as it is not Islamic (or unIslamic) in any way, but opted to do so, because it would probably excite other children to see the Arabic just as it did mine.

calabsh cat 2A calabash cat in the middle of Africa wants to see where the world ends. When the road stops at the edge of the great desert he thinks it stops there. But a Camel corrects him and offers him a ride on his back to show him where the world ends.  When they get across the desert, the camel puts him down on the edge of the grassland and tells him this is where the world ends.  A horse corrects him, that in fact this is not where the world ends and offers to show him where it does.  He climbs up on the horse and the gallop through the grassland.  This continues through the jungle on a tiger, the ocean on a whale, then on the back of an eagle all the way home. Written on a 3.3 level, there are 32 pages with a author’s note about where the idea for the story came from.  The book works well for story time and  the repetition makes it good for bedtime too.

 calabsh whalecalabash