After India, our history studies a few weeks ago took us to the Middle East where we were introduced to the religion of Islam. Those who are familiar with volume two of The Story of the World, which is our primary history book, know that Susan Wise Bauer writes a narrative history with just enough detail for younger students; in other words, this is a basic writing of history, only in narrative form. I’ve discussed before how challenging it is for me to figure out what’s spiritually wise and appropriate for teaching my children about other religions at their still young ages, and I have to say that looking at it through the lens of history has helped. I certainly never want to make other beliefs look like an attractive alternative to Christianity, so we talk and talk and talk some more. I do think it’s important for them to understand the world in which we live, so I press on. I have rejected some books, even those recommended in The Story of the World activity guide, because they present all religions as equal, which is something I cannot do. Today’s reviews are of a couple of books we enjoyed, both with a Middle Eastern setting.
This first title we read is a very gentle introduction to the religion of Islam through the lens of a loving father-son relationship. The Hundredth Name by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim is the story of a young Egyptian boy, Salah, who is upset because he thinks his camel Qadiim is sad all the time. After talking with this father, Salah decides to pray to Allah and ask Allah to tell the camel his hundredth, secret name, knowledge which he thinks will surely make Qadiim happy. When Salah wakes up the morning after he prays, Qadiim wears on his face “a look of infinite wisdom,” and Salah is satisfied. The illustrations for this story, acrylic paintings by Michael Hays, are very soothing and muted. They are done on gessoed linen canvas, which gives them a beautifully textured appearance. (Boyds Mill Press, 1995)
Another story we shared together is a Middle Eastern folktale that we’ve enjoyed before, but I brought it home from the library again just because I knew the girls like it. The Three Princes by Eric Kimmel is a story found in many Middle Eastern cultures, and is even a part of The Arabian Nights. It’s the story of a wise-and-beautiful princess who must choose from among three cousins whom she desires to marry. Her pick among them is, of course, handsome but poor, so he must do something spectacular to prove his worth against the other more wealthy suitors. What he does proves that he is capable of self-sacrifice, thus commending himself all the more to the wise-and-beautiful princess. This book offers the opportunity to discuss the nature of sacrificial love, something that I always strive to point out to our girls from their personal experiences with those who love them. Eric Kimmel is one of my go-to authors for folktale adaptations (we’ve enjoyed a couple of his, which I’ve written about here and here). Leonard Everett Fisher’s illustrations are saturated and luminous, perfect for this somewhat mysterious tale. (Holiday House, 1994)
I love sharing fairy tales from different cultures with my girls, so The Persian Cinderella by Shirley Climo is a book I’m predisposed to like. This story, though, really stands on its own merit. Instead of Cinderella (or Princess Pigsty or Cindy Ellen, or even a Cinderella who repays her stepsisters with kindness), Setarreh is the heroine of this tale. Instead of a fairy godmother, Setarreh has a little blue jug in which resides a pari, and this fairy grants her wishes. The story is predictable, more or less, but the little details give it a real Middle Eastern flair: Setarreh buys her blue jug in a bazaar; she attends the new year’s party, but does so in a large hall filled only with women; instead of losing a shoe, she loses a diamond anklet. The twist comes at the end when Setarreh’s stepsisters commandeer the blue jug and exact revenge on her. Of course, the story finally ends happily for Satarreh and her prince, if not for the wicked stepsisters. The author’s note says that this tale is from The Arabian Nights, which is yet one more classic I should add to my TBR list. Robert Florczak‘s illustrations are vibrant and expressive. (Harper Collins, 1999)
Do you know of any titles to add to a list of picture books set in (or about) the Middle East? Please share!
Oh, and don’t miss Stephanie’s month-long series entitled “31 Days of Reading with Your Children.” If you’re in need of read-aloud inspiration, Simple Things has it!