From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4-8–Benjamin, a Spanish Jew, left his native town of Tudela in 1159 to embark on a 14-year journey across the Middle East. His Book of Travels
, written in Hebrew, recounts his grueling, often-dangerous journey through what is modern-day France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. Encounters with warring Crusaders and Muslims, rapacious pirates, and bandits added to his hardships. Shulevitz re-creates this epic journey in a picture book of epic proportions, adapting Benjamin's account into a detailed, first-person narrative, accompanied by large, ambitious illustrations that evoke the landscapes, people, architecture, and history of the places that Benjamin saw. Darker, freer, and more impressionistic than Shulevitz's familiar work, the art is often indebted to medieval manuscript painting and Persian miniatures. Meticulously researched, with a long bibliography, lengthy author's note, and brief insets containing information that complements Benjamin's descriptions, this oversize picture book is obviously a labor of love. Wherever he went, Benjamin visited Jewish communities. Shulevitz's retelling stands as a testimony to the history, wisdom, and fortitude of those medieval Jews living precariously under Christian or Muslim rule. Both art and text will help readers imagine life during that time and, perhaps, provide a context for the contemporary turmoil in the lands Benjamin visited so long ago.–Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams
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*Starred Review* Gr. 4-7. At first blush, the story of a bona fide twelfth-century Jewish wanderer might not seem the stuff of picture books, even for older readers. But this is so uniquely rendered that it proves, along with other recently published titles, that outstanding execution can draw readers to almost any subject. This fictional account follows Benjamin on a 14-year trip, which takes him from his home in Spain to historic cities of the ancient world: Rome, Babylon, Baghdad, and Jerusalem, among others. Illness, hunger, thirst, thieves, and assassins plague the journey. Yet there are also wonderful adventures, mystical stories, and fabulous sights, such as the pyramids. Told in an expansive first-person narrative, the book is filled with a bazaar's worth of detail, with unobtrusive sidebars explaining text references. In an extensive author's note, Shulevitz discusses how, beginning with Benjamin's actual diary in the original Hebrew, he faced the task of making the mostly factual reporting appealing by adding incidents found in other books. An extensive bibliography lists his sources, but, unfortunately, there are no specifics about the experiences he took from them. It's no surprise that Shulevitz, a Caldecott winner, provides splendid illustrations, but he outdoes himself here. The richly painted scenes, which vary in style and color according to their location, are highlighted by collage accents. Together with the evocative text, they capture the sweep of mysterious and faraway places. For other stories of intrepid travelers, see the adjacent Read-alikes column. Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved