A DONKEY READS by Muriel Mandell, illustrated by André Letria (Star Bright, 2011)
A tyrannical Mongol leader demands tribute from all the residents of an Anatolian village, but one poor family fears their only possible offering, the family donkey, may inspire insult. Indeed, the despot flies off the handle with the first hee-haw, but is placated by the village wise man, Nasreddin Hoca, who insists that the donkey's "intelligent eyes" indicate that he can be taught to read. By feeding the donkey barley between the pages of the book, he manages a most clever trick that hopefully will save the hides of the unfortunate clan. This is a must-have for anyone who enjoys a good trickster tale, or as a stand-out to add to the increasingly expanding children's bookshelf on the theme of reading (recently: DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates, THE WONDERFUL BOOK by Leonid Gore, READ TO TIGER by S.J. Fore, and the deservedly popular HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ by Tad Hills). Thickly painted illustrations have heft and are extremely expressive, and add a lighthearted dimension to a suspenseful folktale. Smart, funny, provocative and inimitably surprising, this legend of Nasreddin Hoca has survived over seven hundred years, and with good reason; it is as much of a pleasure to share today as it must have been centuries ago. (5 and up)
Also of interest:Just getting to know Nasreddin, the Aesop of Turkey? Try this one, too:
THE HUNGRY COAT by Demi (McElderberry) Nasrettin (spelling variation) is invited to dinner, but is rudely shunned by guests and host alike. Could it be his shabby attire? He slips away, returning in magnificent garb, and is welcomed warmly. When served his dinner, though, he proceeds to feed his coat! There is a lesson about appearances hidden in the lining of Nasrettin's strange behavior, one that readers will not likely soon forget. The great Islamic folk hero and champion of common sense gets his due in Demi's signature style: small, jeweled figures surrounded by swirling borders and motifs and touched with gold. This serious topic is told with good humor and cleverness, making this a sensational read-aloud that every child (and grown-up) will benefit from hearing, and one that will whet readers' appetites for even more of Nasrettin's timeless fables. (6 and up)
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