Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Award Winning Books Reading Challenge for 2015 (#AWBRead2015)! It’s that time of the year to set new reading goals for the coming year.


Here is the sign up page and the July-August linky if you already have reviews up. One randomly-selected participant would receive a copy of The Dark Wild by Piers Torday courtesy of Pansing Books.


Click here to view my announcement post to learn more details.


What I love most about our current reading theme is that it takes us far and wide – reminding us of how vast and diverse our world is. I share with you stories from Medieval Spain and Persia!

IMG_2247Never Say A Mean Word Again: A Tale From Medieval Spain

Written by: Jacqueline Jules Illustrated by: Durga Yael Bernhard
Published by: Wisdom Tales, 2014
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

In the Author’s Note, Jules wrote that the story was inspired by “a medieval legend about the Jewish poet Samuel Ha-Nagid, who was the vizier (highest royal advisor) in Muslim Granada, a city in Spain.”

Click image to be taken to the websource.
Click image to be taken to the websource.

Jules reimagined the story and framed it in a fictional narrative told from the perspective of Samuel’s son (named after him and a Jew like himself) and a Muslim child at court. The young Samuel accidentally bumped into Hamza, the tax collector’s son and subsequently spilled lamb sauce into his tunic during the castle banquet. This made Hamza extremely upset, which made him say unkind words to young Samuel.


The Grand Vizier, Samuel’s father, saw what transpired and he asked his son to take care of it so that Hamza does not speak a mean word to him ever again.

Samuel considered a number of ways that he could make Hamza not say a mean word again, but they all seem too complicated and difficult. He eventually found himself knocking on Hamza’s door with a lemon and a piece of paper – he had vague intentions of using them to get Hamza to stop saying unkind words – but somehow, their primary purpose was overridden by playful gestures, chess games, and drawing pictures.


While this story could have a largely moralistic tone, there seems to be that build up to it in the beginning – I am glad to note the subtlety in which conflict was resolved here, the many words that have been left unspoken, and how organic and natural everything turned out to be. For me, the strength of this book is not so much with the art or the typography and book design, but the unexpected resolution in the end. I was also especially taken by the description of Samuel Ha-Nagid who was a Jewish royal advisor and Commander of a Muslim army. I am intrigued by his life, his poetry which earned him his reputation, and this time in history when such a cultural intermingling among individuals is deemed acceptable.

The Earth Shook: A Persian TaleIMG_2240

Written byDonna Jo Napoli Illustrated by: Gabi Swiatkowska
Published by: Disney Hyperion Books, 2009
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

A young girl named Parisa woke up to a world that is vastly different from the one she knew the night before as “the earth shook” and “homes collapsed.” The Author’s Note found at the end of the book indicated that this fictional story is inspired by a major earthquake that hit the city of Bam in Iran on December 26, 2003, when half half the population died and many children were orphaned. 


In this story, the young girl named Parisa, which in Farsi (language of Iran) means “like an angel,” seemed to be the only survivor of this earthquake in their town. She knocked on her neighbors’ doors only to be confronted by wild beasts who refused to welcome her. There was the Boar who threatened to gore a hole through her and a snapping Turtle who stated that she will drown Parisa in the river:


While it may sound quite graphic, the text was actually written in such sparse, lyrical language and rendered in such evocative artwork by Swiatkowska that it is really the sensation and the aesthetics of the entire story that would wrap around the reader’s consciousness. Young Parisa did what she could to get the beasts to accept her from wearing gloves to concealing her offending hands to covering her legs and veiling her eyes – that in the end, she couldn’t help but give in to exhaustion.


How Parisa picked herself up from the dredges of despair, I shall leave for you to discover. This is an allegorical tale that according to Napoli is largely an allusion to Rumi, the Persian mystic poet. While this is a book that may not be for everyone, I was taken as per usual by Swiatkowski’s unsettling art, and the way that Napoli fearlessly allowed poetry to pierce at the heart of this tragedy.

Currently Reading…

I am glad to share that I finished two novels this week: (1) Gabi – A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero which I will be reviewing in a few weeks’ time:


(2) Just Kids by Patti Smith. I knew about this memoir after I read By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the New York Times Book Review edited by Pamela PaulI borrowed this book from the library more than a month ago, and I am glad that I finally read it. Naturally I fell in love with it and will definitely be reviewing it in the next few weeks.


This week, I am planning to finally get around to reading this beauty: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Echo.


I also borrowed this book from the library yesterday and have started reading Blue Horses last night. I often feel a sense of profound gratitude each time I read a poem written by Mary Oliver.



Never Say A Mean Word Again: Middle East Book Awards Honorable Mention, Sydney Taylor Honor Award2015 Skipping Stones Honor Award

The Earth Shook: selected for the Society of Illustrators Original Art Show 2009

#AWBRead2015 Update: 52-53 (35)

10 comments on “[Monday Reading] Children’s Stories from Persia and Medieval Spain

  1. Both picture books seem to be for older children, but what stories they are. That art in The Earth Shook looks terrific, Myra. My library has this book! Thanks for telling about it!


  2. I hear Echo is amazing! Can’t wait to read it.


  3. Gabi was one of my favorite reads of last year. I hope you enjoyed it too. I have Echo on hold and have heard such wonderful things.


  4. Gabi was one of my favorite reads of last year. I hope you enjoyed it too. I have Echo on hold and have heard such wonderful things.


  5. Whoo-hoo, Echo! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

    Also, I am very much intrigued by The Earth Shook. Requested.


  6. Thank you for letting us tag along as the books you share explore so much of the wide world-both past and present. Both picture books look beautiful.


  7. I have not thought about Blue Horses for a while – that might be a great book to pick up at the library. Thanks for reminding me. Lots of great reading here.


  8. I agree about Mary Oliver. So many individual poems that I love to share with my students, though I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her collections. I should remedy that this summer. I am hoping my library will purchase Echo soon–I do want to read it.


  9. The Earth Shook sounds very special, Myra – I love the way you’ve described it.


  10. Ricki Ginsberg

    I love all of the pictures on your post! The cover of The Dark Wild sucks me in. I want to go out and find a copy! Thank you for sharing all of these great books. I hope you have a great week!


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