Written by Rafik Schami
Illustrated by Els Cools and Oliver Streich
Published by North-South Books (1996)
“Once there was a widow who had to work all day to earn enough to feed her two children. One day she falls sick from exhaustion, and so her son Hassan goes off to look for a job…”
Fatima and the Dream Thief tells the story of a widow and her two children, Hassan and Fatima. When the woman fell ill from sheer exhaustion, Hassan decided that he needed to find work. None of the shopkeepers in the town square would hire him. Hassan’s stroke of luck changed when he came upon a great castle in the distance.
The lord of the castle opened the gate. Hassan asked if there was any work for him to do. The lord of the castle told Hassan that he would not last longer than a week. When Hassan insisted on working in the castle, the master offered a deal: if Hassan would work for him without losing his temper, Hassan would get one gold coin at the end of the week. If Hassan failed to do this, the lord of the castle would take away all of Hassan’s dreams.
Hassan was allowed to enter the castle’s one hundred and one rooms but one. For the next few days, Hassan worked hard and remained cheerful so he could get a gold coin for his mother. However, a man like the Dream Thief was not a very good man. He was selfish and quite the deceiver. At the end of the week, the Dream Thief orchestrated a series of nasty deeds to make Hassan lose his temper. Poor Hassan went home empty-handed and completely broken.
When Fatima learned about what happened, she decided to take matters into her own hands despite her mother thinking that Fatima was only twelve, and so small and weak. Fatima went to the castle and asked the master to hire her. She was offered the same deal but Fatima saw that it wasn’t fair. She told the master that she would accept only if he would offer her not one but two gold coins if the master would be the one to lose his temper. Is Fatima clever enough to outwit the Dream Thief or would she, too, lose her precious dreams?
Children’s author Rafik Schami was born in Damascus, Syria. He moved to Germany where he worked as a chemist and wrote. His works have been translated into over twenty languages. Fatima and the Dream Thief was translated to English by Anthea Bell.
(Seeing my name on the title of a book was a plus for me! I was biased, of course. Heh.)
The story is simple and the narrative is long. It is the folktale-ish quality of Fatima and the Dream Thief that makes for a great read-aloud and bedtime story for kids. It has the familiar theme of “good wins over evil” and somewhat follows a David-and-Goliath plot. Nevertheless, readers would still find themselves cheering for Schami’s gutsy heroine. The illustrations in Fatima and the Dream Thief reminded me of the style of Sir Quentin Blake, who was best known for illustrating the books of Roald Dahl.
You may also want to check out this other collaboration
by Rafik Schami, Els Cools, and Oliver Streich: