Whether you know a little bit of Arabic or none at all, this incredibly repetitive counting book will have you able to count to ten in Arabic by the end of its 32 pages. Even if you know how already, your little one will enjoy figuring out why the main character Jouha can’t figure out how many camels he has in his caravan. While Jouha thinks, it has to do with whether one runs off while he is riding, and comes back when he is walking, hopefully by the second or third time, most kids will realize that he isn’t lucky or unlucky, he is just forgetting to count the one he is riding atop of. Probably good for ages 3-7, the book is silly in its repetition, and the beautiful painted illustrations bring the characters emotions to life.
There isn’t anything Islamic, but it is definitely cultural as it retells an Middle Eastern folk tale. The character, a wise fool, is also seen as Goha in Egypt and similar to Nasredeen Hodja in Turkey, all this background is stared at the beginning of the book. There is also information to hear the story online in a read along program http://www.av2books.com, or to hear the author say the arabic numbers at http://www.margaretreadmacdonald,com.
A Muslim Afghani Shah tests a poor Jewish man in this “softened” Jewish folktale. I say softened because the author’s note at the end implies that she is retelling a well-known story in the Jewish tradition that often features mean-spirited characters. In this version, however, the interaction between the rich Shah and the poor man, the Muslim and the Jew, are framed in contrast to show mutual respect, similar values, and the trust one has in God.
This 32 page, AR 4.6 picture book, is beautifully illustrated and would work fabulous in interfaith settings, as well as in any lesson teaching how we should trust God in all things. For children not of Islamic, or Jewish, or Afghani backgrounds, there is very little preaching and would still work very well as a moral narrative or even as a culture lesson, as it is a folktale. From a current events standpoint, it would also do well with older children, as it shows that Muslim and Jews co-existed quite nicely once upon a time in Afghanistan as well.
The plot is warm, although the Shah is clearly abusing his power as he meets a poor shoemaker and passes royal decree after royal decree to test the man’s faith that “everything turns out just as it should” and that God will provide. The Shah decrees no one can repair shoes in the street, followed by banning the selling of water in the streets, and so on, until finally the poor man finds him self in the Shah’s Royal Guard without a sword, ordered to kill someone. Not wanting to spoil how he handled the prediciment, I’ll suffice to say, in the end the poor man is made the shah’s advisor and presumably all is well.
Throughout the tests, we also meet the poor man’s wife, who is supportive and very hospitable as they feed the Shah dressed as a peasant and offer him what little they have. Her clothing is incredibly similar to what Muslims in Afghanistan wear, and makes me want to research this aspect for accuracy and to satisfy my own curiosity.
Overall, a sweet interfaith folktale that I hope to share at our next interfaith storytime.