Books International It's Monday What Are You Reading Middle Eastern Literature Middle Grade Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Tales within Tales in Arabic stories “Aziz the Storyteller” and “That Night’s Train”


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

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 (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 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.

I paired these two books together as they celebrate tales within tales – the best kind, really.

Aziz The Storyteller

Written by: Vi Hughes Illustrated by: Stefan Czernecki
Published by: Crocodile Books, 2002 ISBN: 1566564565 (ISBN13: 9781566564564)Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

I’ve had this book for quite awhile now, and I am glad that I have rediscovered it from my shelves as I was hunting for books that would fit our reading theme.

Aziz is the son of a poor rug merchant. It is clear, though, as the story progresses, that Aziz’s heart is not into selling rugs. He was more fascinated with an old man, sitting on a carpet in the middle of the street, “unraveling a story with each word and gathering many people around him… and they listened.”

The father of Aziz, naturally, was incensed by his son’s inattentiveness, and the fact that he seems to have his head in the clouds all the time. The last straw was when he traded their donkey with the old man’s “carpet of enchantment.” He was told that “All the stories of the world are woven into it, tale upon tale. They will be yours to tell, for you are a storyteller too.”

Whether or not Aziz, indeed, becomes a storyteller, I shall leave for you to discover. My only peeve with this book is the typography. I think that the font is meant to resemble Arabic script, but it made the text more illegible and difficult to understand. That being said, it is still a lovely story about finding one’s own path in life, and a celebration of what it means to be a storyteller.

That Night’s Train

Written by: Ahmad Akbarpour Translated by: Majid Saghafi
Published by: Groundwood Books, 2012 ISBN: 1554981697 (ISBN13: 9781554981694)Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

This is a superbly written short story/ vignette – it is not a picture book, but not thick enough to be a middle grade novel as well, and too sophisticated for an early reader. Hence, it defies easy classification.

It is a story about a chance encounter between a teacher (who also happens to be a published writer) and a young girl traveling with her grandmother inside a train. They form a bond between them, and the teacher promised to call the girl, Banafsheh, that week. This encounter stayed in the mind of the teacher that she started writing about it, and telling her own students about it. The students, then, wanted to know whether the teacher indeed called the girl, or whether someone died in the story – a tragedy preventing a predictable happy ending.

Hence, what seemed to be an open-and-shut story takes on new layers, as the reader is now left wondering whether the chance encounter did occur, or whether it is all in the mind of the teacher-writer, and whether there is indeed a Banafsheh out there, who is heartbroken with a phone that never rang, a promised call that never came – or will it? There is an inception-like quality to the story that reminded me a little bit of Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler. Definitely one of the more intricately-layered stories for children I have read this year. The author, Ahmad Akbarpour has won the Iranian National Book Award and was selected for the IBBY Honour List in 2006.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

7 comments on “[Monday Reading] Tales within Tales in Arabic stories “Aziz the Storyteller” and “That Night’s Train”

  1. Pussreboots

    Interesting pair of books. Armchair Book Expo, getting ready to move, drama club, and a volunteers’ tea. Come see what I’m reading this week.


  2. lindabaie

    Both sound interesting, Myra, especially that final one. It sounds like such an imaginative tale. I’ll be sure to look for it!


  3. What a fascinating pair – I definitely struggle sometimes with books that defy classification, like “That Night’s Train”. I don’t struggle with reading or recommending them, but I struggle with where to put them in the library so that people will actually find them!!


  4. I had both of these books in our school library. I always meant to read That Night’s Train but don’t think I ever got to it. The book store sold me a copy when I was looking for lit circle books grades 2 & 3. It didn’t work for them. We had a few copies of Aziz The Storyteller, because Vi Hugh’s was a teacher in our school district.


  5. Two fabulous new books to hunt down. Thanks, Myra!


  6. Looking forward to reading That Night’s Train, thank you so much for sharing! I noticed we have it at our public library 🙂 Connecting through #IMWAYR


  7. I see what you mean about the text for Aziz. I love books about storytellers.


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