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The Arabian Nights (Classics Advanced Readers) Paperback – September 1, 2011
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With bright, lush, stylized acrylic illustrations, this collection of eight stories from A Thousand and One Nights is designed for reading aloud, but in contrast to many watered-down versions, these tales may find their best audience with older elementary students and middle-schoolers. The long introductory story, Shahriyar Meets Shahrazade, tells of the shah’s discovery of his beloved wife’s betrayal and his shocking decision to marry a new bride every day and then order her death. Then he meets and marries Shahrazade, who persuades Shahriyar to keep her alive by telling him a riveting story each night. Sinbad and Ali Baba aren’t included, but most children will know Aladdin, which is told here in a detailed, relaxed, colloquial style. In the introduction, Tarnowska talks about the story’s roots, as well as growing up in Lebanon and hearing tales of strong women from her grandmother. Throughout, the spacious paintings capture the sense of the supernatural in daily life, including magical images of people taking flight above city, trees, and desert. Grades 4-8. --Hazel Rochman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The Lebanese-born author offers a magnificent new translation of eight tales from the legendary story cycle, based on a 14th-century manuscript. --Smithsonian Magazine
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I shared this with my 4th grade students. I admit I was reluctant to read this with students at first due to the sexual references and subsequent violence. Neither is graphic, but they are stated. (If you don't know the story, two ruling brothers find their wives in the arms of other men and have them executed. One of them, in his grief, decides to marry a different woman every night and have her beheaded in the morning before she can betray him). After some discussion with other teachers, we agreed to try it out with 4th graders to align with their unit on world religion and world culture.
I'm happy that I read it to them, for several reasons:
1) it is based upon the overarching story of The 1001 nights, where Shahrazade volunteers herself to marry Shahriyar (knowing it is sure death the following morning), but captivates him with a story to prolong her life and save the lives of countless other women. This is where the title of the stories comes from and I wanted the students to have a context for it, rather than just reading the individual stories (which can certainly be appreciated in their own right).
2) It gave us a context to discuss violence in a thoughtful way. Students were able to recognize that the violence itself wasn't the point, but rather that it conveyed important things about the people and the culture. And it also augmented Shahrazade's courage.
3) The students loved the stories and were disappointed when we got to the end. They wanted more. Some of my parent volunteers also got captivated and sat and listened and shared how much they enjoyed it.
Wafa' Tarnowska, even though writing a children's book best suited for middle graders, used a 14th century Syrian manuscript (which has been translated into both Arabic and English for publication) as her basis for these stories. She has chosen here to showcase tales which feature women, princess, who bravely help their men in need. While a prince may rescue a princess, he receives ample help from her in pulling off the scheme. This makes Tarnowska's selections unique from other collections of the Arabian Nights. Also the tales are told within the famous plotline of Shahrazade telling the evil Shah a story every night to save him from killing her or anymore girls as he has been want to do over the years. Usually (from my past reading's of children's retellings) this story starts off with the evil Shah who kills a bride every morning and gets a new one every night, but this author has started the story much earlier here and explained how and why the Shah became this way in the first place, another unique feature in a children's retelling of the Arabian Nights.
The stories chosen, apart from Aladdin, are lesser known tales and probably will be new to most readers. The stories are told within a series of several connected tales, making for an exciting extended story involving the characters before tiny segues with the Shah and Shahrazade ending and beginning each new set of tales. They are wonderfully told, in rich language, never talking down to the young reader, the stories don't involve any violence but people are turned into animals and stone, etc. with magic. The sensual aspects are present but kept to an age appropriate level. Kings or princess are "with" the princess and then a year later there is a baby, the word "lover" is used, that sort of thing. I enjoyed the authentic flavour of these tales.
The art also adds to the authenticity of the book. Done in acrylic paintings, the style reflects the time period using two dimensional figures and a palette of desert colours including sand, turquoise and terracotta with browns and greens. The book itself is beautiful, being overly oversized (picture book format) with quality paper and a cloth covered spine. A lovely addition to any children's or fairy tale enthusiast's bookcase. This is a keeper.
Shahriyar meets Shahrazade
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
The Diamond Anklet
Jullanar of the Sea
The Ebony Horse
The Speaking Bird and the Singing Tree
Prince Kamar el Zaman and Princess Boudour
Seven Nights of Celebrations
These are best read one at a time, rather than trying to read it as a book, straight through. (Much as Shahrazade told them, in fact!)
Excellent, wise female characters. Heroic, brave male characters. Sneaky tricksters are foiled in the end.
There is a lot of falling onto beds and refusing to eat until the loved one is returned in these stories, a lot of feminine wiles, a lot of eavesdropping outside of windows, and a lot of love at first sight. It is fairy tale magic. Enjoy this with your family. The giant illustrations add to the fun.
This is a beautiful hardcover book; it would make an EXCELLENT gift.